Killing in the name of…
I’m going to write this in under an hour, because, I believe, if you can’t make an argument in that time, you don’t already know what the hell you are talking about. And if you can’t express it clearly, as I argued in my last post, you are not talking about reality, because reality hasn’t miraculously metamorphosized in the last 50 or so years, and we already had all the words and grammar needed to describe it before linguisticians and pseudo-philosophers decided that language is itself reality, in which case talking about it required new words for not things, but things-refering-to-themselves. You can read Bertrand Russell, and you can read William James, and they are philosophers. You can read Aldous Huxley, or George Orwell, and they are writers with strong philosophical arguments. But many of today’s art critics get their language from linguistic-pseudo-philosophy, and do their best to imitate the grammatical-acrobatics of its mental masturbation contortionists. Bullshit on a platter, folks. We have to live in reality, and we have all the words and grammar necessary to discuss our shared experience in plain language, and the same goes for talking about art.
In all the drive to employ the fashionable new multi-syllabic words — historicity comes to mind — [and note that a certain bent of people will favor using historicity over history every chance they get], people lost the meaning of very simple words and concepts as applied to art. People don’t know what beauty is, which is why they stupidly thumb their noses at it, and they don’t know what visual art is either, and will even insist that something which is obviously visual art isn’t, and that something that absolutely isn’t visual art really is.
Let’s Talk About Beauty
Let’s get out of the way that if you think beauty means pretty you are a moron, or a child. This is the same as thinking that delicious means sugary, and excludes savory, or salty, etc. Beauty does not have to be in the service of pretty at all, nor is it weak or fluffy or self-indulgent.
Beauty refers to the apparent underlying visual logic or grammar of visual intelligence, visual literacy, and visual communication, without which a coherent image that will resonate with anyone else can’t be fashioned. And no, it does not need to be a painting of a beautiful woman with dumpling breasts and long flowing hair all dappled with sunlight as she gently dips her toe into an idyllic lake. If you think Renoir is the epitome of beauty, you don’t know that even his contemporary critics had field days coming up with ways to eviscerate his art.
Woah, her head’s way too small. I’m sure it’s deliberate, but, it’s still disturbing.
Like it or hate it, this next one at least shows enormous facility with visual language:
He’s got skill all right, it’s his tastes that come into question. Not my cup of tea at all, but that’s not the issue.
Beauty doesn’t need to be representational either. It only needs to be coherent, persuasive, and effective in terms of its own internal-logic. Picasso proved this abundantly, nearly a hundred years ago, using imagery:
People who look at this painting and only see the artifact of a misogynist are visually illiterate. You can see this as a repudiation of Renoir, but not of beauty, because according to its own internal visual logic, it works spectacularly.
You develop your visual literacy directly by spending serious time looking at images, in the same way you learn to appreciate music by listening to it. There’s no other way. You can say you need to cultivate your eye, or your ear. People who claim to like sophisticated jazz the first time they hear it (unless they already have a highly developed ear) don’t understand what liking music means. Music takes time to sink it, and so does visual art.
I mentioned in my last post that people think in order to understand art you need to grapple with all that language-obsessed philosophy, and nowadays you need to be woke into subscribing to a certain sociopolitical narrative (which is decades old and slumbering in oversimplified essentialism and scapegoating). Looking at art, from this new perspective, is borderline irrelevant, because what it seeks to do is interpret art, as an idea, within its own framework. This is less surprising — though most are not surprised at all but take it for granted as new and powerful — when the art in question uses zero visual language, intelligence, or imagination.
If you think conceptual art is visual art, you don’t know what visual art is. The same goes for a lot of Minimal art. Just because something can be seen, doesn’t mean it merits looking at, just as something which can be heard isn’t necessarily worth listening to. This is not denigrating other forms of art, from conceptual art to poetry to architecture to dance… It is just saying they are another kind of art altogether. If it can’t be listened to, and doesn’t use musical language, it isn’t music. And if it can’t be looked at, doesn’t use aesthetics, and doesn’t have some underlying visual statement writ in visual language, it isn’t visual art. It’s something else.
If this isn’t already abundantly clear, let me give you an analogy. If someone starts up a leaf blower in an auditorium, the sound can be heard, but it can’t really be listened to. The sound is purely incidental [the leaf blower wasn’t designed to make noise], and there’s no underlying intelligent structure to it. But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you bring in a doorbell instead. Now we can say the sound is deliberate, it has a purpose, and it has a design. Fine, but as far as musical language is concerned, if it were possible to translate its message into English, it would be something like: Doy-ee!
Visual art will make a sophisticated and complex visual statement using visual language, and which is only understood by people who are visually literate (animals can’t interpret it at all). Visual literacy has dropped off enormously, and there are even visually illiterate art critics. As preposterous as that might sound, imagine a music critic who denounces all uses of musical language as backwards and retrograde, and only discusses the new music that is a sound, and must be a repudiation of musical language, in terms of linguistic philosophy, or concepts of white privilege, colonization, and the patriarchy. This exists in art discourse, boy howdy!
The War on the Visual Imagination
[I’ve only got around 15 minutes left, and then my girlfriend is going to tell me to get ready to go out.]
Many people believe that Duchamp’s urinal is the crowning achievement of visual art in the 20th century. That may be a matter of taste, or rather belief, but, we can not argue that it is visual art. Rather, it is another form of art altogether, which does not employ in the slightest any visual language, visual argument, visual intelligence, or visual imagination. It is a rejection of all of them in favor of an idea in verbal language, for which the “Fountain” is a prop.
“The Fountain” is no more visual art than it is music, and it no more replaces the function of visual art than it does that of music. This very simple point is somehow lost in seas of the most elaborated, and tortured, art criticism that needs new words that can barely be pronounced just to express its near unfathomable new depth of understanding.
If we translated the visual message of “The Fountain” into English, it would be something like: Uh, uh, uh, duh, uh, uh, duh.
It is a prop, which is used as a visual aid, in order to make an argument in linguistics. It’s impossible to read it visually, except in the most rudimentary ways, where there is no intelligent attempt to say anything at all, other than form following function for a practical utilitarian object. No visual imagination underscores it, and none is in the slightest necessary. If this still isn’t obvious, ask yourself if the musical equivalent — the sound of a urinal flushing — requires musical literacy to produce.
The existence of these new forms of art do not in themselves interfere with visual art, visual intelligence, or the visual imagination at all, because they have nothing inherently to do with it, and don’t exist within the boarders of visual language. However, the way they are positioned in art history, and the pseudo-philosophy that props them up as the most exalted articulations of visual intelligence (and argues that conceptual art supersedes visual art and renders it void and irrelevant) are a big, ugly problem.
When I say that verbal language launched a war on visual language, and in the realm of visual art, this is what I mean. Just think of the text art of Jenny Holzer, or Christopher Wool, or even worse, Lawrence Weiner. We may like it as conceptual art, but, if you want something to really look at — let’s say that can be read visually — they offer nothing at all. The visual aspect is incidental, and perfunctory. The visual message of a Lawrence Weiner text piece, translated into English, would be something like: woooooo sneeeeeee.
There is absolutely nothing for the hungry eye to savor, nothing for the visually literate to read, and nothing for the visual imagination to explore.
One medium of art does not replace another. We can’t say that sculpture replaces music, and we can’t say that art which is visually mute replaces art which is richly, visually articulate. But this is what happened.
In my grad school, I can say with confidence, that the total time we spent actually looking at art in terms of reading it visually (not interpreting the visual content as an idea in linguistics to be debated according to politics or philosophical notions) was less than a minute. I can’t recall doing it at all.
Just imagine going to music school, and not being allowed to play an instrument or write a song, unless is it was appropriated or ironic, and the musicality was absolutely incidental. Musicality would be anathema in music school! It would be considered extraneous at best. Instead, you would use sound, in some other way (the object cannot be something that one enjoys listening to) but not musical language, to make arguments in linguistics about philosophy, political revolution, and that music is dead.
This is a real sonofabitch if you love visual art, have a rich visual imagination, and the need to express yourself through imagery.
You are disqualified in the arena of visual art, because, it has been historically replaced by art that not only rejects visual language, but has sought to extinguish it as a rival.
We might as well just fucking pluck out our eyes. Of course the visual imagination continues, but it is maligned within contemporary art as some sort of excess to the degree it exists at all. In the name of visual art we have insisted that visual expression must shut the fuck up, or else, and we pat ourselves on the back and call ourselves the descendants of Michelangelo for doing so.
You can have your conceptual art, and piss in it too (folks, this actually has been done as a performance). That’s fine. But it has nothing to do with visual art because it is visually inarticulate, uses zero visual imagination (beyond what someone might use in designing a doorstop), and can’t be read visually, or explored using the visual imagination.
The people who say that painting is dead, or any form of visual art (one need not use paint), because it’s all been said and done before, only point to their own imaginative sterility in the visual realm. If I can’t think of anything new to say musically, because I’m not a musician, it doesn’t mean nobody else can either, and they are ass-backwards if they try.
Killing the visual imagination in the name of visual art is not a higher or more evolved form of visual art, it is the attempt of linguistics to murder visual language. We can, and should, enjoy and celebrate all forms of art (communally, not everyone has time or interest in appreciating every medium), and non-traditional, non-visual forms of art are also creative, interesting, and use, sometimes, other kinds of imagination (just as visual art uses imagination other than the musical variety). That’s fine. Visual art did not try, historically speaking, to eradicate any other art form.
Conceptualism, and the pseudo-philosophical gobbledigook that supports it, is the linguistic cuckoo trying to push visual language out of the next. And when visual artists fight back, they are at a supreme disadvantage, because the fight takes place, as here, in the arena of linguistics.
Some people think I’m the bad guy because I attack conceptual art. No, what I do is defend visual art from attacks from conceptual art and linguistic-philosophy and overarching political ideology.
[Aaaand my girlfriend just came in and said, “You’re getting ready, right?”]
This ends my rant. I’ll come back and edit my typos and such, otherwise people will insist I am a moron and wrong about everything because I don’t know the difference between there and their, or your and you’re, or I made its into a possessive [mistakes I make all the time where I do know the difference]. But I won’t add anything or take anything away. I’ll keep this as stream of consciousness, unfolding in one go. A straightforward argument made directly. Note that I added the images as I went.
I’m back, and with an addendum.
My point is super F’ing obvious, and yet, sometimes we can’t see the obvious for all the complicated notions we have to deal with. As I like to say, truth is much simpler than lies, because lies can’t take the direct path, and must make a circuitous route and manufacture a seemingly plausible fiction in an alternate universe. Nevertheless, people may still not see it. So, let me give you some visual examples closer to the division between visual and non-visual art.
The Miro above is a magnificent use of visual language, while also veering into new imaginary territory. It’s abstracted, and emphasizes shapes, lines, colors, and an almost musical composition. There’s no need to be more representational than this.
This de Kooning is visual art, and it knocked my socks off, from across the room, when my art teacher, when I was 18, opened a book and showed this to us, in small reproduction in printer’s inks. Visual art need not be representational at. But this has color, depth, movement, and even illusionistic space and textures.
Jackson Pollock is visual art, though a bit more austere. The composition, because it is all-over, which is a cop-out, is virtually non-existent. The palette is severely limited. There is no imagery. There is, however, oodles of line, movement, rhythm, and energy. While there is no proper illusionistic space, the lines and various splotches themselves, because of angles, thickness of lines, and layers, give an impression of intersecting, intertwined lines in a shallow space.
David Salle made textbook postmodern into visual art:
You can borrow from popular culture, use text, and combine different influences, no problem.
The above assistant-painted collage by Jeff Koons is visual art. Wait, that’s a parody by me. Hold on.
The real deal is uglier, but the same definition applies. Collages are visual art.
The “painting” above with Koons is not visual art, though it looks like it at first, and it is a failed attempt at it. This is akin to me initialing a copy of Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses and calling it a novel by me. His use of visual art is just affixing a blue gazing ball to the center of a copied old master painting, which is precisely where he placed one on every painting his assistants copied for him. There’s no individual relation between painting and ball other than is utterly perfunctory and incidental. It LOOKS like visual art, but says nothing, and even less. It’s a kind of gagging of visual art.
Don’t be confused by the presence of paintings. If I bring a boombox into a concert hall, push play, and play the Bee Gees, I’m not making the music, I’m just presenting it. Here, Koons is just presenting copies of paintings by other people, slapping on his logo, and assuming he can take credit for the original visual communication. FAIL!
The print above by Barbara Kruger is visual art, but not very sophisticated in those terms at all. It doesn’t rise above absolute basic commercial design, and its function is to send an ironic message. The content is largely linguistic. But it is a rudimentary collage, uses some imagery and color, and with some taste. However, the visual aspect is so minimal that this qualifies more as a conceptual piece which uses imagery. If the style is appropriated in whole, and she didn’t invent it, than I might have to push this over the edge into full-on conceptual art with a visual prop.
The above painting by Kazimir Malevich is really on the cutting edge between being minimally visual art, and being a mute thing. There is no composition, play of color, subject, movement, and so on, and you don’t need to be visually literate or visually imaginative in the least to make this, or to appreciate it. The equivalent in literature would be a one word poem, which I shall quote in full: “BLACK”. You might be able to get away with this once, but, that’s it. It’s not really worth looking at any more than any other black square, and that’s a big problem. I’ll grant that in person, perhaps he sought a certain black, and an experiential immersion in one color, in which case, well, there’s something there, but barely. This is thin-ass gruel. I say this is a conceptual painting. X
A lot of his other work is rather limited, but definitely visual art (above).
This is a photo of a photo, by Sherrie Levine, is not visual art. It’s an entirely mute gesture in the service of a [bogus] philosophical argument, partly based on the idea that originality in visual art is impossible, and thus copying (or “re-duplication” to use the proper jargon) is all one can do. Here, the image doesn’t change from the original, but the context does, in the mind, in linguistics.
The original photo, and most serious photography is visual art [that could be a rather big topic, so I’ll just generalize here].
Duchamp’s “Fountain” is not visual art because it is completely mute, and absolutely zero visual intelligence, literacy, or imagination was necessary to produce it or understand its message, which is a prank on the art world of the time, and a criticism of visual art. This is properly seen as “anti=art”, and anti-visual, and anti-aesthetic.
The above performance by Marina Abramovich is not visual art. It’s much, much closer to theater. And sure, you can see it, it’s not invisible, but so can you see theater, which also includes props, and other things like costumes.
The piece above by Larry Weiner is not visual art, it’s typography in the service of conceptual art. And the same applies to works by Christopher Wool, such as the following:
And if you want to argue that this text art by Wool or Weiner has an aesthetic and I’m just too stupid to see it, or lost, or in love with antiquated painting, and I will never reach these artist’s grand level of insights, or whatever, those are both parodies by me.