postmodern

Metamodernism by Chris Hall

"We must go forth and oscillate."  from the Metamodernist Manifesto.

It is always best to be true to yourself, to follow the beat of your own drum.  But it can be a lonely path, sometimes, hence my search to find world views and philosophies similar to my own.  It is good to have a sense of community, to maybe have a sense of belonging to something greater than yourself.  And when you have ambitions to Change the World, it is also good to have a team for validation and mutual support.  

I've looked into Altermodernism and Hypermodernism as Postmodern replacements.  They are too close to Postmodernism.  Neomodernism and Remodernism (while attractive) might be too obsessed with the past and nostalgia... (The Stuckists embrace being "stuck."), even to the point of rejecting all abstract art.  

Just recently I came across an article in Hyperallergic which proposed yet another replacement for Postmodernism.  It is called Metamodernism...

The article quotes liberally from Timotheus Vermeulen's and Robin van den Akker's essay, Notes on Metamodernism, that was originally published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture in 2010.  The essay describes Metamodernism in terms of a generational shift:

Indeed, if, simplistically put, the modern outlook vis-à-vis idealism and ideals could be characterized as fanatic and/or naive, and the postmodern mindset as apathetic and/or skeptic, the current generation’s attitude — for it is, and very much so, an attitude tied to a generation —can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism.

The metamodern, therefore, “oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.”

The Hyperallergic article goes on to say that, "We are too far removed from the early 20th century’s wars and revolutions to believe that art can truly be an agent of change, but we also recognize that it must be something more than hollow commentary. To paraphrase one of the essay’s subtitles, the metamodern is art after the death of art."

For years I've been disgusted by the ideas presented by Postmodernism (though my art aesthetics may reflect it at times).  I've always preferred to champion my Modernist heroes, who believed (perhaps naively) that Art Can Change The World.  And I want to believe this, too!  To me, the Postmodernists were/are cynical/jaded/apolitical artists reflecting the Aesthetics of Surrender, embracing the Nihilist position that nothing matters, that everything is meaningless.  I can not stand by this.  It is hard to believe that there is a meaning to it all, that Art Matters, but I try to hold on to this belief. 

The Modernists were Fanatic Hot-Blooded Creatures of Revolution.  I, too, am a Fanatic Hot-Blooded Creature of Revolution. Still, I understand melancholy, disappointment, doubt, and skepticism.    I understand the concept of Weltschmerz (world pain).  I just can not wallow in it... I go there, but I refuse to stay there.... I always fight my way out of it.  Like the X-Files poster says, "I Want to Believe," but I also want to do so with sense of caution, with pragmatism.

I might just be down with this newish thing called Metamodernism.  Here is a link to their manifesto:  metamodernism.org, and to their website:  metamodernism.com.


Am I alone in this? Who else is with me?  I look forward to reading  Timotheus Vermeulen's and Robin van den Akker's essay, Notes on Metamodernism and to investigating this new rabbit hole a bit further.  

"We must go forth and oscillate."  Finally, an art movement that embraces my bi-polar tendencies.

Art, Not Advertisment by Chris Hall

Recently I've read that the iconic mural at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Deborah Whitehouse's Spirit of Atlanta, is being deinstalled after nearly 20 years in residence, to be replaced by a Porsche advertisement.  The mural was installed in 1996 to commemorate the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.  Though Spirit of Atlanta is not as cool as Leo Tanguma's ballsy murals at Denver International Airport (parts of which have also been deinstalled), I've always liked seeing this welcoming work of art as I headed up the escalator from the terminal trains below (well, everything except that diaper kid on the right; that kind of creeped me out).

Art to be replaced by an ad . . . no matter if you liked the mural or not, it certainly is better than yet another advertisement (visual pollution).  Although art and advertisement share the same language, their motives are completely different things.  Art aspires to truth.  Ads, however, are no different than political propaganda, as they both have an ulterior agenda behind the facade.  Since the 1960's (with Andy Warhol and Pop Art) and the advent of Postmodernism (with their expanded definition of what could be considered art) many have accepted advertisement as an art-form.  I will proudly remain a stick-in-the-mud, however, and a misanthrope if I have to be, working outside of the cultural norms and in defiance of this trend.  Nor will you find me a visitor to the High Museum of Art's Coco-Cola exhibit, either.

I can understand (but never agree with) how many people can be uncomfortable with Leo Tanguma's murals, In Peace and Harmony With Nature, and The Children of the World Dream of Peace; most people would choose ignorance and bliss over truth and consequence, but to favor an advertisement over art, as many have done in the comments section of the article I read, that I can not fathom.  Take this gem from the comments section by a person identifying themselves as DrSocrates:

Finally the airport is making some sense.  The airport is no place for artwork, museums, shopping malls, or fine dining.  It is a place for travel.  It could be a place for revenue-producing ads.  There are many places for ads.  Where the mural was, where you wait for the trains (think New York's subway), on the trains, at baggage claim.  Whether these ads increase business for the sponsors doesn't matter.  The airport should try to maximize its revenue generation so it can DECREASE taxes and fees. Period.  End of argument.  

What an obtuse ass.  And it only gets uglier from there.

In case you were wondering about Leo Tanguma's murals at Denver International Airport, it seems they have become part of a conspiracy theory involving a secret underground base, the Illuminati, the New World Order, Neo-Nazis, and Subterranean Reptoid Aliens.  I think we need more of this kind of art!  You can learn more about it here:  

Creating Monsters by Chris Hall

Son of Frankenstein, 1939.

Recently, in conversation with another artist, it was brought to my attention that I use a Postmodernist aesthetic in my artwork, most notably in my use of text in art, which did not really start to happen until the 1960's.  I was, admittedly, taken aback, but I had to agree with the facts.  It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetic.  Postmodernism does not believe in originality; instead it champions pastiche and cultural sampling . . . and Postmodernism has actively mined Modernist art for inspiration.  Using Post-modern pastiche techniques can make for interesting results, but I stand firm in my belief, the Modernist belief, that originality is possible.  In this regard, and in many others, I mostly subscribe to the Modernist philosophy.  But I wonder, am I making a mistake?  

Often, I am too much of a dinosaur, philosophically, to be accepted by Postmodernists, but too Postmodern in my aesthetic to be accepted by certain Re-modernists.  Just like many other aspects of my life, I find myself without a home, left roaming the swamps like a monster on the outskirts of civilization.  In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, we learn that Dr. Victor Frankenstein created his monster by merging the rational Enlightenment science of his day with the ancient, more mystical based science of the alchemists Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and others.  His creation was deemed to be a monster and he was doomed to live a life of lonely exile, unloved by all.  But Dr. Victor Frankenstein's monster (abandoned at birth, he was never given a name) was not born a monster, he was made out to be a monster the society that shunned him.  The monster tried hard to be accepted by others, but after repeated rebuttals, ended up embracing his role as a scourge to mankind.  I wonder, is this to be the fate of my work?  When I attempt to make an artwork combining Modernist philosophy with Postmodern aesthetics, am I producing monsters?  Because I love my work, what I do, does this make me a monster, too?  Am I doomed to be forever an outcast?  While I might revel in the thought of making monstrous artwork that might become a holy terror among the polite circles of the bourgeois and intelligentsia, I do not revel in the lonely existence it has thus far given me.

Irony and Sarcasm in Art by Chris Hall

Sarcasm 2.jpg

I recently read a couple of interesting articles in the Remodernist Review and on Salon on the use of irony in the art world, and I felt compelled to share with you some of my thoughts as well.  In the Remodernist Review, Richard Bledsoe quotes a line from Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot:  “I don't like irony. . . it indicates a small soul.”  I have to agree with this sentiment.  Irony is born out of pessimism.  It is something I can understand very well.  I have frequent bouts of pessimism in my life, and irony sometimes rears it's ugly head in my art-making.  But I believe it is something we should try to transcend.  We can do better than this.

In Bledsoe's article, he writes, “To embrace irony is to strike a pose of groundless superiority, to think social status is demonstrated by a jaded attitude.”  Bledsoe continues:

Irony is the philosophy of sour grapes.  Those who feel incapable of producing something with skill, meaning and significance like to act like they don’t want those achievements manifested in their works.  But even worse, and more treacherous, to preserve their facade they must suppress and undermine the works of others who are striving towards some higher purpose or accomplishment.  Sophisticated poseurs can tolerate no reminder of their own shortcomings. Irony is a form of passive-aggressive envy. . .  

Those are harsh accusations, but accusations that just might float.  It is true that a lot of bad contemporary art is justified by impenetrable theory and text, theory and text that is ironic and pessimistic in nature.  It just might be that the use of irony might be more than a crutch, but a purposeful obfuscation of the weakness of their argument and art. 

Irony, along with sarcasm, has infected our culture.  Not only is too readily apparent in contemporary art, it has also manifested itself in the way we interact with other people.  Going through the personals on dating websites (yes, ladies, I'm single) I frequently come upon a variation of the addendum “must like sarcasm.”  I see it so often that it has become a turn off.  To me, “must like sarcasm” is code for “I am so smart, so much smarter than you, that I can allow myself to be insulting and smug about it.”  Sarcasm is a form of detached, jaded insincerity.  It bespeaks a lack of curiosity, a closed mind, an unwillingness to learn, and a shallow personality.  Perhaps in small doses, it is OK, we all go there sometimes, but as a personality trait, I'm not interested.  Although contemporary art is filled with irony and sarcasm, I don't blame art for our culture's smug opinion of itself (today's art world is as insular and elitist as ever – not much of an influence on our cultural zeitgeist), instead I think the blame can safely be placed on the pop culture medium of television.  I also think that contemporary art, which draws from pop culture trends as much as it does from pessimistic critical theory, has followed suit.  The critical detachment of watching a train wreck and ironically discussing its aesthetic merits and flaws or political implications is not the environment with which I want to produce art work.  Remember the last two episodes of Seinfeld where the gang are jailed after watching, recording, and laughing as a man is carjacked at gunpoint in front of them?  It is a damning criticism of where I think our culture is now, the whole better you than me attitude.  Everyone laughs, and nobody stops to help.

Don't get me wrong - I'm no saint.  Sometimes I, too, can be jaded, smug, etc., but I always try to treat others with sincerity and respect.  I think my use of sarcasm and irony can be traced to my sometimes excessive sense of pride.  Pride is perhaps the strongest of my faults (that, and Anger – which often stems from my impatience and disappointment at seeing the world fail to live up to my ideals and expectations).  I try to keep my faults in check whenever they appear, and while I am more successful at keeping Pride in check, Anger, being more of an emotion than an attitude, is sometimes harder to control.  Humility is the key . . . recognizing that there have been, are presently, and will be people more talented and intelligent than you is but one step on the path toward achieving the peace that comes with wisdom.  But this is hard in the Ego driven world, where success is often measured proportionately with how much Ego you have, and how much you brag about yourself.  I have no time for Egotism in my life.  There is always so much more to work on, to make better, and to learn.

Obviously written by someone who has a high opinion of themself.

Obviously written by someone who has a high opinion of themself.

One of the reasons Postmodern and contemporary art critics give as to why sincerity and passion is bad for art and the world is addressed in Matt Ashby's and Brendan Carroll's article in Salon.  In it they write:  

Skeptics reject sincerity because they worry blind belief can lead to such evils as the Ku Klux Klan and Nazism. They think strong conviction implies vulnerability to emotional rhetoric and lack of critical awareness. But the goal of great art is the same whether one approaches it seriously or dubiously. To make something new, to transcend, one must have an honest relationship with what is: history, context, form, tradition, oneself.

Today the critical default is skepticism and pessimism.  Skepticism and pessimism in critical theory was partially born out of the use of art and aesthetics to inspire blind devotion in Nazi Germany.  Pessimistic critical theory gained further appeal with the failure of art to spark a world wide revolution in 1968.  But I believe with all my heart that we can not just lay there at the bottom of the hill, licking our wounds, laughing as others also fall down.  If optimism isn't your thing, then call it something else, like Schopenhauer's animalistic “Will” to carry on.  The only thing that matters is that we've got to get up and try again!  It is OK to aspire to great things and to stand up for your ideals.  Somebody's got to be the hero, and if its not going to be you, if you are not going to even try, then I may as well have a crack at it.  I know the odds are stacked against me, and that I may very well fail, but I know that I will at least be the better human being for having been brave enough to try.

In the Salon article, Ashby and Carroll ask some important questions:

So, to be more nuanced about what’s at stake: In the present moment, where does art rise above ironic ridicule and aspire to greatness, in terms of challenging convention and elevating the human spirit? Where does art build on the best of human creation and also open possibilities for the future? What does inspired art-making look like?

One might be tempted to look toward the recent past, towards Modernism for examples of “inspired art,” but we don't have to.  There are plenty of people working in contemporary art, exiles still working on the edges of the officially sanctioned art world institutions, waiting for their time to come.  These artists, whether they are aware of it or not, are part of a growing art movement called Remodernism.  Truly inspired artists, once scattered to the winds in the contemporary art wasteland, are now starting to find each other, banding together for strength in numbers, and they are starting to challenge the status quo and stir things up a bit.  My hope is that the movement will continue to grow and gain momentum.  Richard Bledsoe closes out his article in his blog Remodernist Review with the following:

It’s an exciting time to be an artist, and help the world move past the self-serving decadence the self-proclaimed elites cultivate.  It’s time to call the bluffs, stand up to the bullying, and put the perpetrators to the test.  Can their art survive outside the privileged cloisters they huddle in?

It is hard to know exactly what art and the world will be like in the future.  We can only speculate based on current circumstances and past examples in art history.  In art history we know that Modernism rescued art from the stale clutches of 19th century Academic art, and that there was a spiritual revival in art (Abstract Expressionism) following the comparatively more decadent period of art between the two world wars and the fascist aesthetics of the mid-1930's.  Today it seems that there are a few loud voices of dissent operating on the margins of the art world, while a large group of hard-line Postmodernists remain burrowed in the skin of our art institutions like ticks, sucking in as much blood as they can before they die off.  And they are dying off.  By far the largest group of people in the art world are the ambivalents.  They may go either way.  While some may be flat out opportunists, I feel the vast majority of these people are truly getting tired of all the irony and sarcasm.  They are just looking for something to believe in again.  They want something better.  The Postmodern parasites will, no doubt, promote successors who share a similar philosophical background.  There is not much we can do about that.  What we can do is make our voices loud and our message clear, and promote an attractive alternative agenda to replace what is currently being offered by our art institutions.  Perhaps someday our ranks will grow large enough where we can properly challenge those who now hold power in the art world institutions.  Perhaps someday it will not all be in vain.

The Gender of Paintings by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall,  General Douglas MacArthur:  We Pray For Your Erection , c 2009

Christopher Hall, General Douglas MacArthur:  We Pray For Your Erection, c 2009

In his book The Invisible Dragon, Dave Hickey writes an essay on the perceived gender shift of art (most especially paintings), from Renaissance to Modern times, and then again in our contemporary times.  To do this, Hickey sets up two aesthetics, “masculine” and “feminine,” and assigns them attributes appropriately (though perhaps using “aggressive” and “passive” in place of “masculine” or “feminine” may have been more appropriate).  Critical language is important when setting up gender aesthetics in art.  Hickey writes that “The demotic of Vasari's time invested work with attributes traditionally characterized as “feminine”:  beauty, harmony, generosity.  Modern critical language validates works on the basis of their “masculine” characteristics:  strength, singularity, autonomy.”  Hickey explains later that the illusionistic painting of Renaissance times is more receptive to the viewer's gaze.  When looking into a painting with illusionistic space, the viewer's eyes penetrates the picture plane, which is generously offered, shared, and ceded by the artist.  In this regard, paintings with illusionistic space do have “feminine” qualities.  According to Hickey, beginning in Baroque times, paining began a march toward a more “masculine” aesthetic, gradually encroaching on the viewer's space.  With the rise of Modern Art, the “masculine” aesthetic of flatness began to dominate, with paintings seeking to reclaim the illusionistic space, at times even seeking to penetrate outside the picture plane, and overwhelm the viewer.  Modern painting, then, can be said to have an aggressive aesthetic.  

About 50 years ago, beginning with the so called “Death of Paining,” masculinity and Modern Art aesthetics have come under fire.  Postmodern critics have disparaged painting, instead favoring conceptual, photographic, three-dimensional, installation, and time based practices.  This criticism of patriarchal tendencies in the Art-World was, perhaps, made with the best of intentions.  Yes, there were a few assholes among the Modern artists and Modern Art supporters, and yes, it was a bit of a patriarchy – but it doesn't follow that the Modernist, “masculine” aesthetic is sexist and patriarchal.  If we follow Hickey's logic of assigning gender attributes to illusionistic depth - or the lack of it as the aesthetic goes in Modern Art - couldn't we also assign gender attributes to color theory?  Red (and warm colors) are aggressive and advance in space, while blue (and other cool colors) are passive and recede into space.  Surely it would be madness to suggest that a painting dominated by the color red is an affront to sensitive eyes and thus an example of patriarchal tendencies in the Art-World, but sadly that is where this logic carries us.

So I have to ask, what is exactly is wrong with the “masculine” aesthetic, with celebrating masculinity?  What harm does it do?  Why is it so damned?  Sometimes it seems to me that art with so called “masculine” attributes is too quickly dismissed and damned by critics, dispatched without much investigation.  If a work of art has “masculine” attributes, it is sometimes assumed that author is an insensitive pig and on the wrong side of history.  Even Hickey, a man who is himself sometimes accused of being a chauvinist, compares Modern Art aesthetics to a “dysfunctional male parent in the tradition of the biblical patriarch.”  But just because a work has a “masculine” aesthetic, it shouldn't follow that the artist is a neanderthal male chauvinist pig.  Sadly, though, that is the impression I sometimes get from critics, as if a Modern Art painting is capable eye raping their grandmother and leaving her corpse in a ditch.  The last time I check, neither Van Gogh nor his Starry Night, has ever raped anyone.  Someone should take the time to remind Sherrie Levine of this.

Surely we can each have our own tastes and opinions concerning what we may find beautiful or useful, whether it be “masculine” or “feminine” aesthetics, and Hickey sets up his argument in this way, sharing with us his preference for painting with a “feminine” aesthetic, that is paintings with illusionistic space.  While there are many gender politic issues that still need to be addressed, (pay inequality, for example), Modern Art aesthetics is not one of them.  I fear, though, that by assigning gender roles to art and aesthetics, we are only giving more ammunition to the deconstructionists who already look for any excuse to dismiss Modern At aesthetics based on gender politics.

I have been thinking about the subject of masculinity in art quite a bit recently, as I submitted a short statement along with images of my work for a future show entitled #Masculinity at the Low Museum in Atlanta.  I was excited about the prospect of participating, as I think the time is now ripe to re-examine our positions, and re-open an honest dialogue on what exactly it means to be masculine in our contemporary culture.  I think we will find that it may be safe to once again celebrate and reclaim some aspects of masculinity while at the same time also being careful and critical of some of its more ridiculous and, perhaps, more harmful aspects.  My proposal was turned down, which was kind of hurtful, considering how important the subject is to me and my work (I offered them 60 drawings directly related to the subject -  it is hard to believe they couldn't find at least one drawing that would have worked).  But you can't always win.  It would make for a pissed off Chris, though, if all the art in the show ends up being dismissive and critical of masculinity and masculine aesthetics in art, which considering today's critical climate, is a distinct possibility.  

The Postmodern Manifesto by Chris Hall

When Jacques Derrida (the father of deconstructionist theory) died in Paris in 2004, found among his effects, on a desk next to his deathbed, was an unpublished manuscript entitled “The Postmodern Manifesto.”  It was signed by two other Postmodern champions, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault.  Below are the thirteen points of Derrida's “Manifesto,” with my response to each point in italics.  

1. The art of the past is past. What was true of art yesterday is false today.  This is not true.  If it were, the art of the past would not be so viciously attacked and deconstructed by Postmodernists.  If the art of the past (Modern Art is most often attacked) is false, then it could be safely ignored.  Modern Art, however, still has power and relevance today.

2. The Postmodern art of today is defined and determined, not by artists, but by a new generation of curators, philosophers and intellectuals ignorant of the past and able to ignore it.  Curators, philosophers, and intellectuals ignorant or able to ignore the past?!  Is the past that dangerous to the Postmodern vision?  There has always been strong historical parallels between world affairs and art affairs.  To purposefully ignore the past is to doom the world to a repetition of our mistakes! Purposeful ignorance on the part of curators, philosophers, and intellectuals has got to be THE MOST ASININE THING I'VE EVER READ.  And another thing:  Art is created by artists, not curators, philosophers, and intellectuals!  Since the dawn of time, Art has always come before philosophy, art has always been primary.  We can live without the critic, but we can not live without Art.  Nietzsche tells us that Art is most true when it is a raw expression of life's essence, when it bears the tension and tragedy of our predicament.  When art becomes too heady, when it becomes co-opted by curators, philosophers, and intellectuals, poetry takes a back seat – and the work loses power.  When curators, philosophers, and intellectuals take hold of art, they inevitably destroy it.  Not poets by nature, they make the art in their own image – with the result being too heady, too heavy in theory.  Here I am reminded of Oskar Kokoschka, when he said, “the enlightenment will come to a bad end – the head is much too heavy and the pelvis way too frivolous.”  And how do curators, philosophers, and intellectuals plan to take away what rightly belongs to artists?  See points 12 and 13 below.

3. Postmodernism is a political undertaking, Marxist and Freudian.  Political art is necessary and great, but art needed always be political.  There is still a place for beauty and spirituality in art.  Marx and Freud were concerned with the surface of things, not depth and compassion.  For compassionate politics and psychology, I'll take the original Jesus (as portrayed in the Bible – not by neo-con preachers) and Jung (he added spiritual depth to Freud's work) over Marx and Freud any day.

4. Postmodernism is a new cultural condition.  Despite what some may think, Postmodernism is a cultural climate invented by Postmodernists, not a cultural climate which Postmodernists seek to mirror or subvert.  And I believe, for the most part, that Postmodernists are nihilists at heart, and are not concerned with humanity's best interests.

5. Postmodernism is democratic and allied to popular culture.  While it is allied to popular culture (and often the worst aspects of it) Postmodernism is NOT democratic.  Points 11 and 13 prove this. Postmodernism is actually a perfect mirror of our political state of affairs, in that it has the appearance of democracy (even mob rule at times), but in fact, it is an enterprise run by a few monied and elite power brokers behind the scenes, who are more concerned with themselves than with the interests of humanity.  Is it a nefarious conspiracy?  Possibly.

6. Postmodernism denies the possibility of High Art.  High Art is something noble, something an artist should aspire to.  We might not always get there, but we should at least try.  To deny the possibility of High Art is to settle for mediocrity, filth, and defeat.

7. Postmodernism deconstructs works of High Art to undermine them.  Postmodernists are not content with shaping present and future culture trends, they also work hard at dismantling the past as well! Why?  Because they know High Art still has the power to challenge and inspire. As a result, Postmodernists feel they have to cheat and “sweep the leg” of their Modernist predecessors in order to put themselves in a better light.

8. Postmodernism is subversive, seditiously resembling the precedents it mimics.  I can support Debordian tactics of detournement.  It is a useful tool for combating institutions of power.  Guy Debord originally used detournement to subvert the French Government during their attempt at revolution in 1968.  It almost worked.   Perhaps angry at the failure of art to inspire and effect revolution, Postmodernists began using the tactic in a self-destructive way, to deconstruct and undermine Modern and High Art.  Perhaps today's artists should consider using this tactic to undermine those who currently hold power in academic institutions – the now aging Postmodernists themselves.  Alan Sokal used it to great effect in 1996 when his fake essay, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was published in an academic journal.

9. Postmodern art is pastiche, parody, irony, ironic conflict and paradox.  Like detournement, irony, paradox, parody, etc. are great tools for attacking institutions of power – but it has lead to a glut of “clever art.”  Today it is used primarily by artists who only want to take a shortcut to their 15 minutes of fame, and who are not concerned with humanity's best interests.  In this climate, art has become a youth cult for the cool, a quick fix, and a flavor of the week.  Slow and timeless art with depth is often ignored and sacrificed in favor of what is immediate and now.

10. Postmodern art is self-consciously shallow, stylistically hybrid, ambiguous, provocative and endlessly repeatable.  Self-consciously shallow?  I insist on depth!  Why would any true artist want to aspire to shallowness, to vulgar cheapness?!  This is what you get when you purposefully pander to the lowest common denominator:  the popular culture waste product that is Reality TV!  I ask, is that a good thing?  Does the world need more of this?  I can see how attempting to appeal to the masses and using methods of mass production to make “repeatable” art are great tools when you want to effect societal and political change, but we need not be “shallow” about it.  And besides, most of what I see coming out of Postmodern practice seems nihilist and defeatist in nature – just how is this going to change anything?

11. Postmodern art is anti-elitist, but must protect its own elitism.  I've always said that for all its so called inclusive pluralism, Postmodernism is in fact VERY elitist.  This point is the proof!  And how does it protect its own elitism?  See point 13.

12. To the Postmodernist every work of art is a text, even if it employs no words and has no title, to be curatorially interpreted.  Art cannot exist before it is interpreted.  It is perhaps true that art can not exist without a viewer – but it can live without the interpretation suggested by the Postmodernists, which is dissecting and deconstructionist in nature.  Good art can operate independently of text.  Bad art relies on text as a crutch to support it's thesis.  Postmodern point 12 is what curators and critics have used to bullishly elbow their way to the front of the line in the Art-World – at the expense of the artist.

13. Postmodernist interpretation depends on coining new words unknown and unknowable to the masses, on developing a critical jargon of impenetrable profundity, and on a quagmire of theory with which to reinforce endowed significance. Vive le Néologisme!  And here it is – proof that Post-Modern International Art English critical jargon was purposefully invented not to clarify, but to beguile!  

On Beauty, Aesthetics, and the Lack of it in Conceptual Art. by Chris Hall

Marcel Duchamp (the father of conceptual art),  Fountaine , 1917

Marcel Duchamp (the father of conceptual art), Fountaine, 1917

“For more than four centuries, the idea of “making it beautiful” has been the keystone of our cultural vernacular - the lover's machine gun and the prisoner's joy – the last redoubt of the disenfranchised and the single direct route, without a detour through church and state, from the image to the individual.  Now that lost generosity, like Banquo's ghost, is doomed to haunt our discourse about contemporary art – no longer required to recommend images to our attention or to insinuate them into vernacular memory, no longer welcome even to try.”  Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon.

For many years, while in my youth, I denied the importance of beauty when making a work of art, slightly favoring content over form.  It was a mistake on my part, as I tended to conflate notions of conventional beauty (think 19th century academic art) with generalized aesthetics.  But I've since learned that beauty, even conventional beauty, can be a useful tool (like humor) to smuggle in controversial/problematic ideas to an audience who may not be willing to receive a "message" willingly.  Aesthetics puts the sugar in the cough syrup, essentially.  More than just a tool for art for art's sake beauty (which indeed, does serve a purpose – healing the wounded psyche, so often marred by modern life, is a noble use for beauty and for art), aesthetics is a useful communication tool; it is useful in that it can attract and advertise ideas (as opposed to products).  Aesthetics can attract a viewer toward an artwork, and if properly deployed, its nuances can help convey a message, a feeling, an idea – communicate.  If art could be said to have a prime directive, then it might be the need to effectively communicate to others.

Joseph Kosuth,  One and Three Chairs , 1965.

Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965.

Again, I am not limiting myself to just notions of conventional beauty (what I may find beautiful, others may not, and visa versa) , but to aesthetics as a whole.  Beauty is guided (though not governed) by aesthetics – the kinds of things you learn about in foundations classes (color, contrast, repetition, etc).  Aesthetics, when learned and used, can be an effective tool in communication.  Increasingly, however, art (most especially contemporary conceptual art) is divorcing itself all together from aesthetics.  Without aesthetics, however, there is nothing to draw a viewer in, and nothing to help clarify meaning and message.

Maurizio Bolognini,  Programmed Machines,  1992-97 (hundreds of computers are programmed to generate random images which nobody would see).

Maurizio Bolognini, Programmed Machines, 1992-97 (hundreds of computers are programmed to generate random images which nobody would see).

Perhaps we can partly forgive a conceptual work if the message or proposed idea is worth examining and to our benefit, but post-modern skepticism and pessimism often denies us this, giving us instead a smug, nihilist perspective, self-congratulatory stuff, and stuff too reliant on being cool and clever.  On a good day we might get art with a simple, pat, feel good message, but that kind of art will only get you so far.  Rarely do I see any contemporary conceptual art that actually challenges or inspires.   Instead we get theses and investigations.  All of this, of course, assumes that the conceptual art effectively communicates its message, and too often, it does not.  Too often these works rely on a supporting artist's or critic's text in order to explain the intent (and without the use of aesthetics to draw a person in, the viewer's curiosity to even want to investigate those texts is voided).  But let us suppose that viewer's curiosity is piqued, and they choose to seek out and read the supporting text – what might they expect to get in return?   They can expect to be rebuffed by a wall of vague, cryptic, elitist International Art English jargon.  The ability to effectively communicate in art is important if one hopes to have any kind positive effect on the world.  More often than not, though, contemporary conceptual art fails to meet even this very basic requirement.   Supporters of contemporary conceptual art practices tend to be academic elitist cognoscenti,  left brain types who distrust poetry, more statisticians than artists, they are those who can dispense with beauty, who choose to speak the puffed up jargon filled International Art English gibberish as a means to impress their peers rather than to clarify their argument, and they are not willing to condescend themselves to speak in a language everyone can understand, perhaps for fear that their argument might be exposed as a fraud.  Their world view is head heavy and lacks a visceral life body, and for all their pluralist rhetoric, they think nothing of openly mocking art that doesn't fit into their world view (no-no buzzwords include:  universal, heroic, individualism, catharsis, beauty, originality, self-discovery . . . incidentally, all things championed by Modernism).  It is an exclusive rather than an inclusive practice.

Lam Hoi Sin, installation from  The Crap Show , 2012.  I can support this one.  The communication is clear, if ironic and at least the artist is being honest with himself.

Lam Hoi Sin, installation from The Crap Show, 2012.  I can support this one.  The communication is clear, if ironic and at least the artist is being honest with himself.

I realize I am being very judgmental here and making sweeping generalizations, so I would like to point out that unlike my many other conceptual art detractors (notably my Stuckist brothers and sisters), I am not completely anti-conceptual art (many Stuckists will go so far as to even condemn abstract painting).  I am, however, against the failure of art to properly communicate  – and the nihilist, skeptical, pessimistic (or pat) messages often contained within them.  Beauty and aesthetics are equally as important as content and message; ideally, good art must have a balance of head, heart, and body.  I do believe that it is possible for conceptual art (with the aid of aesthetics) to communicate more effectively to an audience beyond elitists in the know, and to do so with challenging and inspiring content.  Sadly, in my experience at least, those instances are few, and far in-between.

Technicians of Ecstasy - Shamanism and the Modern Artist by Chris Hall

I recently finished reading Technicians of Ecstasy – Shamanism and the Modern Artist, by Mark Levy.  In it he profiles 27 artists in three different categories, Seeing, Dreaming, and Performing, and gives details about various Shamanic techniques that contemporary artists can use to advance their own work.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and my copy is now marked up with underlined passages, asterisks, margin notes, and tea stains (I spilled tea on it on the day I finished reading it and had to dry out the pages).  I can not recommend this book enough to anyone who might be interested in the areas where spirituality, psychology, and fine art intersect.  In the final pages of the book, Levy advocates a return to spiritual values in art, and gives us a kind of call to arms.  The following quotes are culled from the Conclusion of Mark Levy's book.  I thought they might bear repeating here. 

“In the beginning, in prehistoric times, the roles of artist and shaman were not separated.  Shamans were, in fact, the most gifted artists in their community.”  

“Currently, in post-modern art where, in the words of Nietzsche “nothing is true and everything is permitted,” the task of re-valuing the world with spiritual meaning becomes especially urgent.”  

“I believe the role of the artist as shaman will become increasingly attractive for artists who are seeking to go beyond the idiosyncratic selfishness, commodity fetishism, adherence to fashion, and sterile appropriation that informs much of contemporary art.  Many contemporary artists simply borrow spiritual contents by appropriating images and styles from a wide range of cultures, including tribal art.  The result is a simulacrum of meaning which lacks depth.  Art that uncovers authentic truth requires difficult and sometimes dangerous journeys.”

“Shamanic techniques, when used properly, offer essentially non-destructive means for artists to invite visions and gain knowledge about themselves.  Works of art evolving from these visions continue to nourish their audiences.  The opportunity for artists to make positive contributions to their communities also eliminates their own feelings of alienation and exclusion.”

“In shifting attention from common sense or “consensus reality,” artists as shamans succeed in expanding their consciousness and the consciousness of their communities and offer blueprints for spiritual development.”  

Collateral Damage by Chris Hall

Michael Asher,  Untitled  (1991).

Michael Asher, Untitled (1991).

In recent art news, Hyperallergic wrote that Michael Asher's piece, Untitled (1991), which was installed on the University of California San Diego campus, was destroyed by a masked vandal with a sledge hammer.  The vandal also destroyed eight surveillance cameras surrounding the campus’ performing arts center.

Asher's Untitled (1991) is nothing more than a generic indoor water fountain installed outside.  Vic Viana, author of the Hyperallergic article, writes that Untitled (1991) “subverted the conventions of outdoor fountain design while also serving a practical function for thirsty students.”  So the piece is subversive, how hilarious is that?!  Mary Beebe,  director of the university's Stuart Collection of site-specific art, informs us in a video link in the article that, “Many people have a drink out of this fountain without realizing it’s art.” 

It is sad to see any work of art destroyed, even the work we don't like (in a democracy we have to be open to the opinions of others), but I have to go on record as saying this work was really, really bad.  It reminds me of Damien Hirst's cigarette butt filled ash tray that was left in a gallery and accidentally thrown out.  If you make art celebrating the mundane, indistinguishable from everyday life, you shouldn't expect the world to treat that object with any reverence or respect.  I wonder how many people have let their dogs piss on it, or how many people have stuck their chewing gum on this piece over the years?  As for my own taste in things, I believe art should aspire to transform its audience in some way.  Untitled (1991) piece purposefully blended into the background.  It didn't function as art, it functioned as a water fountain, and no amount of intellectual gymnastics will ever change that.  I would like to think the sledgehammer attacker was a conceptual art iconoclast, but no, the reality is the wrecked water fountain is nothing more than the collateral damage.  

While I would not like to go so far as to say vandalism is art, I do think the vandal's statement, knocking out the security cameras, could be interpreted as a clumsy critique on the growing acceptance of “big brother” surveillance and intrusion into our daily activities.  And, if that was indeed the intent of the campus vandal, then I would like to be the first to say that the campus vandalism was a much more subversive act than anything Michael Asher's Untitled (1991) pretended to be.  

On Art and Suffering by Chris Hall

Edvard Munch,  Despair , 1894

Edvard Munch, Despair, 1894

In the eyes of art history, Munch’s best work came out of his suffering.  His work after 1910 is generally regarded as weaker than and not as expressive as his earlier work from the 1890's and 1900's.  Is suffering necessary in order to make good work?  Many artists believe this, perhaps because suffering is all they have known, and we artists insist on our wounds (and the world isn’t friendly to artists and the expression of emotions).  I once believed that good work could only come out of suffering, too, but I refuse to believe completely in it anymore.  As someone who has experienced mental illness in the form of major depression and anxiety, I understand this notion to a great degree.  But there is nothing romantic about depression and anxiety.  Looking back, maybe my suffering gave me some clarity, insight, and empathy after the fact, but while being depressed, or in the throes of an anxiety attack, it is impossible to make art.  It is a torture to want to keep on living, let alone hold a paint brush.  I don’t know exactly how other artists work, what makes them tick, what makes them produce art.  Speaking for myself, it is important for me to be happy while having a little bit of an edge and some sensitivity.  I remember being on lithium for a short time, years ago, and how I could not produce any artwork because I felt emotionally numb, so maybe there is some truth to the necessity of suffering.  Maybe a little suffering is good for the soul, but only a little.

Why is contemporary art wary of art as catharsis and the expression of human emotion?  Why is it afraid of color?  In today’s rationally minded art world, perhaps they are afraid of that which is unquantifiable.  They are afraid to look into themselves and recognize that they, too, are feeling creatures, with darkness, anxiety, potential sadness, or worse.  No, if there are to be any emotions in today’s rationally minded society, it can only be emotions that are useful and can be exploited, bright, cheery, happy emotion.  Everything else must be quietly swept under the rug.  While in grad school I was surprised to learn that some of my more emotional and cathartic work would be received not with empathy, but with disbelief that anything of this kind of expression could be genuine.  There is no longer any respect for expressions of suffering.  All one has to do is look at the many parodies, products, and memes out there today of Munch’s The Scream to understand this.  One of the pictures below is of artist Takashi Murakami mocking The Scream.  He should know better.  Clearly he has no respect or empathy for Munch or his work.  Munch must be rolling in his grave.

Munch isn’t the only one to suffer posthumous humiliation.  There are endless parodies, products, and memes concerning Van Gogh’s ear as well.

On "Teen Paranormal Romance," an Exhibit at the ACAC by Chris Hall

Kathryn Andrews,  Friends and Lovers , 2010, part of "Teen Paranormal Romance" on display at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Kathryn Andrews, Friends and Lovers, 2010, part of "Teen Paranormal Romance" on display at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Young adult fiction, as typified by books such as “Twillight,” “Divergent,” “Hunger Games,” and the Harry Potter series, is a fantasy genre populated with wizards, werewolves, vampires, and super humans. While marketed toward teens, it is also widely consumed by adults looking for a cheap escapist fix.  Industry analysts estimate that over a half of its readers are over 18.  Because of its expanded fan base, the genre has become very profitable for book publishers, who seem to churn out the books at ever increasing rate.  Mindful of these profits, many of the books have been translated into blockbuster films.  Like it or not, it seems YA fiction has entered our popular culture zeitgeist and shows no sign of waning.  I have no problem with teens reading Young Adult fiction, but adults should consider growing up and reading something more challenging, more to their level, or better yet, get out of their escapist fantasy space and do something better for the community. “Teen Paranormal Romance” does make this critique, in its own way, by making a critique of consumerism within the genre and by distancing itself from all things within the realm of the unconscious, which exhibit curator Hamza Walker defines in “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the essay accompanying the show, as “an internal psychic space . . . a derelict playground where there are no children, only weeds.”  But it is a real shame that many artists today have abandoned the unconscious, a real well-spring for the imagination and a source for psychic truths, and the only reference to it in our cultural zeitgeist is a superficial escapist preoccupation within young adult fiction.  Instead many of today’s contemporary artists opt for a different set of aesthetics, in the case of the artists in “Teen Paranormal Romance,” that would be the machine like, empty language of consumerism and popular culture.  For the most part, all the work in “Teen Paranormal Romance” have abandoned any kind of psychic inquires or emotional pathos.   In this way, “Teen Paranormal Romance” is typical of the cold, cerebral investigations in contemporary postmodern art practices today.  

I will not take the time here to describe to you the works within the exhibition.  If you are interested in learning more about the work within “Teen Paranormal Romance,” you can read Jacquelyn OCallaghan’s excellent review of it for burnaway.org here:  Parsing the Psychosexual in "Teen Paranormal Romance" at the ACAC. 

For the Love of the Hunt by Chris Hall

I recently read about Andre Breton’s ambivalence toward painting, which is surprising since he is in the vanguard of Surrealist thought and theory.  Breton writes that painting is a “lamentable expedient in the service of the revolution.”  This attitude, that making art is a chore, saddens me.  Breton only sees the end result, the art object and not the process, as worthy of consideration.  This attitude strips the importance of loving the process of making art out of the equation.  

Nathan Coley is one artist who seems to hate the process of making art.  The 2007 Turner Prize nominee described his working process for The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Place of Worship, Edinburgh (2004) as “there was nothing beautiful or exciting about it.  After two weeks it became total drudgery.”  For The Lamp of Sacrifice, Coley constructed miniatures of all the places of worship in Edinburgh, Scotland, not out of fascination, love, or reverence, but to inquire into the “insidious hold religion holds on our society.” Even anger would have been an acceptable emotion, as anger with something at least proves that you must love something else in equal measure.  It is possible to construct a critical work of art and still love the art making process, but I don’t believe Coley truly likes making art, and this is where I think he errors.  If you hate making art, I suggest you stop being an artist.  We don’t need you.  There are plenty of people who like making art who will gladly take your place.  When you approach the art making process without love in your heart, it ends up reflecting in the work.  I see it too often in contemporary art practices . . . cold, intellectual investigations made without love.  

Below are some of Nathan Coley's cold, intellectual investigations, made without love.

The Artist Versus Critic by Chris Hall

James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold:  The Falling Rocket, c 1875

In 1877 artist James Abbott McNeil Whistler sued critic John Ruskin for libel.  In a review for Fors Clavigera, Ruskin accused Whistler of “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”  The piece Ruskin was writing on, Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold:  The Falling Rocket, c 1875.  The trial was a disaster for both Whistler and Ruskin.  Whistler wasn't helped when Nocturne in Black and Gold was accidentally presented upside down, nor was he helped when Whistler tried to explain the concept behind his work; it seemed to go above the jury’s head.  Ruskin was absent from the trial for medical reasons, making Whistler’s counter attack ineffective.  Whistler had also counted on many of his fellow artists to stand witness, but they refused, not willing to risk their own reputation.  Somehow, despite all of this, Whistler won the case.  But the damage to both Ruskin’s and Whistler’s careers was irreversible.  Whistler was awarded only a little in financial compensation, and he was soon forced to sell, pawn, and mortgage everything he had before declare bankruptcy.  The following is an extract from the court proceedings:


Holker: "What is the subject of Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket?"
Whistler: "It is a night piece and represents the fireworks at Cremorne Gardens."
Holker: "Not a view of Cremorne?"
Whistler: "If it were A View of Cremorne it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic arrangement. That is why I call it a nocturne...."
Holker: "Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?"
Whistler: "Oh, I 'knock one off' possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it..." 
Holker: "The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?"
Whistler: "No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime."


I rather like Whistler’s response, “no, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.”  How true this is.  This makes a great defense when for when people cheapen the labor of artists (which does happen often).  But there were some consequences and fallout for art as a result of the trial.

While Whistler’s victory went a long ways to champion the notion of the artist as an intellectual (not just merely a craftsman), thus making the critic redundant, it also would become a slippery slope where upon artists would later champion the idea or concept over all technical and aesthetic considerations.

The lawsuit also meant that artists were no longer accountable to critics, which again becomes a slippery slope.  Without an effective objective critical base, many bad works of art become paraded before the public, and many works that ought not to be considered art at all.  Currently this is the state of affairs in Post-modern pluralism, where critics refuse to be critical for fear of accidentally offending someone.  

Six Art Problems by Chris Hall

Postmodernism shuns useful rules and conventions and rationalizes inferior art by wrapping it in words—a suit of armor with no one inside. It thrives in the academy, where language abandons reality to serve ambition, and reputations rise on hot air. It is silly and joyless at the same time.  Postmodernism seems to be fading away. Let’s hope! But when it comes to trendy intellectual nonsense, academia is infinitely resourceful. What will it come up with next?
Walter Darby Bannard


Claes Oldenberg – The Store, 1961.  The Store was an installation, literally in a store.  In it Oldenberg sold life-size little objects made of plaster such as food, shirts, ties, cigarette packs, lingerie, and other commodities.  The Store both celebrated and critiqued popular culture and American consumerism.  It was also made to make fun of the grand gestures of Abstract Expressionism. Sure, nicely executed, but in championing the mundane, please don’t be surprised if I get bored and walk away.

Bridget Riley – Movement in Squares, 1961.   A fine example of Op Art, Op Art is all about movement and illusion . . . and not much else.  Essentially it all design without any critical commentary.  And since I don’t find anything attractive in it, even as a design, it is very easy for me to dismiss.  Despite not being well received by the critics, it proved to be very popular with the public.  Soon Op Art was used in a number of commercial contexts.  Bridget Riley sued an American company for incorporating her art into fabric designs, without success. 

Roelof Louw – Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges), 1967.  There is nothing soulful about it. It is just a pile of 6,000 oranges, stacked in a pyramid.  Visitors to the galley are invited to take away an orange and eat it.  The work is meant to raise questions on ephemerality, the passage of time, and decay.  If that is the case, then it fails on me.  The Tate recently recreated the piece for roughly $47,000, so it comes out roughly to $8 an orange, proof that even a bad idea can be commoditized.

Lawrence Weiner -  A Rubber Ball Thrown on the Sea - Cat. No. 146, 1969.
It is currently displayed at the Hirshhorn Museum in large, blue, sans-serif lettering. Weiner is open to the seven words being produced in any color, size or font.  The work destroys any notion of the artist as auteur, because, like Sol LeWitt’s drawing instructions, it requires other people’s labor and decision making for it to exist.  It deconstructs the once widely held belief that art is something to be praised and is special.  

Wim Delvoye – Cloaca, 2000.  Cloaca, also known as the "poo-machine", is probably Wim Delvoye's most famous art installation. In 2000, he put together complex machinery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium, that mimics the action of the human digestive system and converts food in feces. Real food is dropped down a funnel into a meat grinder (simulating the teeth) twice a day. Then, viewers can follow the food as it makes its way through a series of glass containers containing human digestive juices and enzymes, which represent the various stages of digestion. At the end of the tract, the machine produces feces which are then vacuum-packed and sold in translucent boxes.  When asked about his inspiration, Delvoye stated that “everything in modern life is pointless. The most useless object I could create was a machine that serves no purpose at all, besides the reduction of food to waste.”  

Attila Csorgo – Novecento, 2008.  It is a dead horse suspended from the ceiling.  At first glance, the work seems a bit gratuitous.  After some reading (why is it always necessary for me to read text in order for me to get conceptual art?) it turns out that the work references a 1976 Italian film 1900 (pronounced Novecento in Italian).  1900 is about Italian Modernity, presenting Fascism and Communism in opposition to each other.  Csorog’s Novecento is meant to be a eulogy for these 20th century revolutionary impulses.  What isn’t clear is Csorgo’s intentions:  is the artist lamenting the loss of radical politics or lampooning their failure?  Without clarity we are left with nothing but a dead horse hanging from the ceiling.

Recovering Beuys: Artist, Activist, Shaman, Teacher by Chris Hall

Zeige Deine Wunde - Show your wound.  Joseph Beuys

And when I say: “Show it! Show the wound that we have inflicted upon ourselves during the course of our development”, it is because the only way to progress and become aware of it is to show it.  Joseph Beuys  

Image from I like America and America Likes Me, 1974

The Origin Myth

Joseph Beuys remains a controversial figure to this day, nearly 30 years since his death.  Despite being on the vanguard of conceptual and performance art, the hard-core Post-modernists don’t want him because of his enigmatic myth making and his refusal to give up and become a pessimist and skeptic.  Beuys was in line with the artist as hero rhetoric of his Modernist predecessors and since Post-modernists like Benjamin Buchloh won’t claim him, I think I will take him for one of my own team.

As a young man Beuys was fascinated by animals and studied medicine.  But soon afterwards the Second World War broke out and in 1941 Beuys volunteered for the Luftwaffe where he trained as a radio operator and gunner for the Ju-87 Stuka dive-bomber.  But on 16 March, 1944, at the age of 22, something significant would happen that would alter the course of his life forever.  While flying a mission over the Crimea he was shot out of the sky, the plane crashing into the snow.  The pilot was instantly killed, but somehow Beuys survived.  According to Beuys, he was pulled unconscious from the wreckage by a group of nomadic Tatars, who then warmed his frozen body and cared for his wounds by wrapping him in animal fat and felt blankets.  The Tartars took him in as one of their own until Beuys was well enough to make his way back to German field hospital.  Later, returning home, Beuys fell into a deep depression.  It was in this state that Beuys begin to feel himself transformed.  He found help through making art in the form of drawings which at this time he produced in the thousands, and he began his fascination with Shamanism and healing.  Drawing would later remain a big part of his practice and teaching philosophy, even as his own work grew more conceptual and he began to make performance art.   

It is for certain that Beuys did crash in the Crimea, that is in the record, but as for the rest, his Shamanic initiation with the Tatars and the transformation through depression, that can not be substantiated.  It has led some skeptics such as Buchloh to believe that Beuys made the whole thing up in order to create a legend or myth about himself.  However, I am inclined to believe Beuys story, as I, too, have gone through a bit of a transformation myself when I was 19, when I had my first black, howling, soul shattering depression and my own Shamanic initiation dream.  But irregardless of whether it all happened as Beuys described it or not, the story still informs his art, and the subsequent art is more important than the origin story.

After recovering from his wounds and depression, Beuys saw that Germany, too, was sick and wounded, and was also in need of healing.  Beuys viewed his art as a healing tool, and viewed himself as an artist, healer, and teacher.  He sought to bring mystical truths to the people and genuinely sought to make the world a better place through art, politics, and education.  

Beuys the Activist, Beuys the Educator:  a Misunderstanding of Intent.

As a political activist he was one of the founding members of Germany’s environmentalist Green Party.  Beuys would also run for a seat in Parliament, unsuccessfully.  Beuys’ merger of politics and aesthetics, plus his messianic myth making character, lead some people to distrust him and become skeptical of his intentions.  Despite Beuys democratic rhetoric, some viewed him as a totalitarian in disguise, reminiscent of Hitler.

To make people free is the aim of art.  Therefore art for me is the science of freedom.  Joseph Beuys  

Even today Beuys remains a controversial figure.  In a recent biography, Hans Peter Riegel writes, “Beuys was one of the first members of Germany’s environmentalist Green Party, and he spoke a great deal about democracy. Ultimately, however, the artist strove for a totalitarian society …” This assertion is made only because of Beuys willingness to be vocal about his politics through his art, and his supposed, tenuous connections with former Nazis (while this is in character for the messianic Beuys, to heal the wounded sinner, I might also argue that everyone among his peers would have been guilty, at least by association, in Post War Germany; to say otherwise would be completely naive).

Photograph from a performance at the Technical College Aachen, in 1964.  The performance was part of a festival of new art coinciding with the 20th anniversary of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.  The performance was interrupted by a group of students, one of whom attacked Beuys, punching him in the face. 

As an educator he taught at the university, where he was very popular with is students, but when the university fired him because of his unorthodox teachings, he founded his own university.   Despite being a conceptualist and a practitioner of performance art, Beuys was deeply invested in the power of aesthetics and would require that his students take drawing classes.  Beuys was often outspoken about his criticism of Duchamp for removing aesthetics from art.  Unfortunately for Beuys, who was politically active, the connection between aesthetics and politics was one of the major defining characteristics of Fascism.  This, of course, led many people to distrust him and misunderstand his intentions.

The esthetic conservatism of Beuys is logically complemented by his politically retrograde, not to say reactionary, attitudes. Both are inscribed into a seemingly progressive and radical humanitarian program of esthetic and social evolution. The abstract universality of Beuys’ vision has its equivalent in the privatistic and deepy subjective nature of his actual work. Any attempt on his side to join the two aspects results in curious sectarianism. The roots of Beuys’ dilemma lie in the misconception that politics could become a matter of esthetics …  Benjamin Buchloh  

So when I appear as a kind of shamanistic figure, or allude to it, I do it to stress my belief in other priorities and the need to come up with a completely different plan for working with substances. For instance, in places like universities, where everyone speaks so rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear.  Joseph Beuys

To be a teacher is my greatest work of art.  The rest is a waste product, a demonstration.
Joseph Beuys

Beuys the Artist, Beuys the Healer:  Two Significant Performances

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, 1965.  

It was made “when he was almost entirely unknown. Visitors could view Beuys through a window, where they found him sitting and cradling a dead hare in his arms. The artist’s face was covered in the symbolic substances of honey and gold leaf, and his boot was weighed down with an iron slab. He mumbled barely audible noises into the ear of the inert animal, as well as explanations of his drawings hanging behind them. This action, both strangely hilarious and moving, puts us in mind of the impossibility of teaching, the skepticism of listeners, indeed the deaf ears of most of those we ask to listen. It speaks to the difficulty of making one’s work known in the world and the possibility of an unexpected transcendence of these limits.”  (Italicize mine, from Outsiders:  The Art of Joseph Beuys by Tim Segar for Potash Hill).  

I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974. 


For this performance Beuys flew to New York City and was taken to a room in a gallery on West Broadway. He “was transported by ambulance, lying on a stretcher and wrapped in felt. For three days, the artist shared the room with a wild coyote. Some of the time he stood leaning on a shepherd’s staff, swathed in his felt blanket. Other times he lay on a bed of straw and watched the coyote. The coyote watched him, circled him, and shredded his blanket to pieces. The artist did things like striking a large triangle, drawing lines on the floor, and other mysterious gestures . . . After three days, the coyote had grown quite tolerant of Beuys. The artist hugged him and returned to the airport in an ambulance, leaving without having set foot on American soil . . . A bit of context to remember is that the Vietnam War was in its last year when this piece was made, President Nixon was on the verge of resigning the presidency, and the international community had been looking askance at the United States for quite some time . . . In both works, Beuys is acting on our behalf both humorously—mocking our attempts to interact with the world—and shamanically—conjuring hidden languages with which to cross the boundaries of death, species, language, and cultural divides.”  (From Outsiders:  The Art of Joseph Beuys by Tim Segar for Potash Hill).  

Coda:


This is what Beuys tries to do: only through showing the wound – the pain and suffering caused by the past – and through repeatedly reliving these traumatic events can some form of coping take place and can one leave the past behind. Beuys pushes where it hurts and shows in which ways one can cope with a problematic past.  From Joseph Beuys and the German Trauma by Lisa VanHaeren.

Beuys fought against skepticism and doubt.  Through his art he sought to do well by both people and the environment, healing the rift between mankind and nature (in 1982 with the help of volunteers he planted 7,000 Oak trees in Kassel, Germany).  And yet many of his critics remained skeptical, if not suspicious of his work.  His ardor and artistic and political idealism tended to turn off and frighten people.  Beuys critics fall into two camps:  one group, represented by critic Stefan Germer, believed that art did not have the power to initiate political change; they were filled with skepticism and doubt, and viewed Beuys as a deluded fool.  The other group, represented  by critics such as Benjamin Buchloh, believed (in light of Fascism) that art and politics were a dangerous combination, and that aesthetics should not serve as a vehicle to effect political change; Buchloh and others were suspicious of Beuys and sought out ulterior motives in his politics.  Despite the harsh criticism, Beuys did not give up, he continued his work; he truly believed in his mission and in the power of art to change things for the better.  Beuys’ artistic altruism, his generosity, his dedication to his mission as an artist, his championing of artistic and political idealism, and most of all, his refusal to give up, these are all worthy and admirable qualities.  There should be more artists like Joseph Beuys.  

Drawings by Joseph Beuys

Not Everyone is an Artist by Chris Hall

There are too many artists, too many dealers, and too much art. If plumbing was as popular as art, we would have amateur plumbers running around in stained clothing, brandishing plungers and roto-rooters, climbing in and out of sewers, and writing gibberish about pipe systems.
And none of our toilets would work.

- Walter Darby Bannard

Every man is an artist – Joseph Beuys  


While I appreciate his Democratic impulse, Joseph Beuys was wrong.  Just like not everyone can be a surgeon, or not everyone can be an astronaut, writer, film director, or musician, not everyone can be an artist.  

It used to be the rare individual who was an artist.  You had to have both a technical ability (aka talent), and also have a visionary or poetic spirit (imagination).  Now neither of these two aspects is required in order to be an artist, or at least a postmodern artist.  With the new direction art has taken, art in the expanded field, (art as social experiment, art as data collection, even art as food service) it seems like a lot of people are producing what some people might call art.  Postmodernism’s destruction of hierarchies and a refusal to be critical of just what exactly defines an art practice (the pluralist “anything goes” attitude) has made for a bloated market.  

Instead of art and the expanded field, perhaps we should call it art and the expanding balloon.  Eventually the expanding balloon will pop.  

Christopher Hall  Spiderman Can't Paint , c 2010

Christopher Hall Spiderman Can't Paint, c 2010

Without Ardor . . . No Art by Chris Hall

Why is the contemporary art world afraid of the romantic myth of the artist as solitary genius author?  Reason has killed the mysticism and emotion of art, killed off the artist’s celebration of mystery and magic.  In its place is pure rationalism.  Rationalism is both frightened and embarrassed by the artist’s assertion of imagination and emotionalism in art, frightened and embarrassed because emotions and the imagination are by nature, personal and unquantifiable.  

Back in 1950, Lionel Trilling forecasted future art practices when he wrote in the preface to The Liberal Imagination, “[liberalism’s] vision of a great enlargement and freedom and rational direction of human life . . . drifts toward a denial of the emotions and the imagination . . . in the very interest of affirming its confidence in the power of the mind . . . inclines to constrict and make mechanical its conception of the nature of the mind.”

Today the rationalists rule the art institutions, the schools, the critics, the galleries and museums.  For the most part, these institutions refuse to acknowledge that an artist can lay claim to some irreducible mystery and magic. Contemporary art must be logical, responsible, and well-behaved.  Who will champion the artist now, if not the art institutions?  The visionary artist is without a home.

In an article for the New Republic, Jed Perl writes, “It is all well and good to say that cool heads should prevail.  Art, however, is by its very nature overheated, hot-headed, unreasonable – and, dare I say it, sometimes illiberal.  Without ardor there is no art.”

31 Flavors of Bad Art by Chris Hall

31 Flavors of Bad Art:  Art, Artists, and Art Movements That I Either Find Problematic or Just Outright Dislike.

1.  Jean Honore-Fragonard – The Swing, 1767 . . . A fine example of Rococo art, in all its decadent decorativeness.  It isn’t critical of anything and serves only to please the eye, and that, not very well.  The ultimate in work inspired to produce in me a yawn. 

2.  Alexandre Cabanel – Birth of Venus, 1863.  Like most late 19th Century Academic Salon work, it is backward looking and fails to take any stance on Modernity.  At least it is interesting to look at, sometimes.

birth of venus.jpg

3.  Kasimir Malevich – Black Square, 1915.  Malevich was the founder of the Suprematist art movement.  In Suprematism (Part II of The Non-Objective World), Malevich writes:  Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without "things" (that is, the "time-tested well-spring of life").  In his attempt to produce an art that no longer serves the state and religion, he also produced an art of negation, of life, of love, and of nature.  Contemporary to Malevich, Neoplasticist artists such as Piet Mondrian also striped their work of anything human, by reducing their palette to primary colors, black and white, and limiting their composition to horizontal and vertical forms. 

black square.jpg

4.  Marcel Duchamp and or Baroness Elsa von Freytag - Fountain, 1917.  Submitted for the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, Fountain was rejected by the committee, even though the rules stated that all works would be accepted from artists who paid the fee.  Duchamp, a failed painter, perhaps jealous of the success of his two brothers’ and sister’s success in the arts, might have created Fountain out of spite.  He would come to reject all art that he considered “retinal,” that is all art that relies on notions of aesthetics and aims only to please the eye.  Instead, Duchamp wanted to put art back into the service of the mind.  I think Duchamp was mistaken in dividing art into two camps, art made only to please the eye and art that is purely conceptual.  There are plenty of works of art that have grounding in both.  Duchamp’s Readymades were purely conceptual, “My idea was to choose an object that wouldn't attract me, either by its beauty or by its ugliness. To find a point of indifference in my looking at it, you see.”  In favoring the mundane and conceptual over aesthetics, Duchamp produced a black work that destroyed the primacy of the image.

5.  Fortunato Depero - Patriotic Storm, 1924.  Italian Futurism, an offshoot of Analytical Cubism, emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, mechanization, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the aeroplane and the industrial city. It celebrates Fascism and many of the concepts that helped make the 20th Century such a violent and dehumanizing place.

6.  Lucio Fontana – Concetto spaziale (Spatial Concept), or Tagli (Slashes), 1949.  Like many of his works, it is a monochrome painting with sharp, precise slashes on the canvas, “to discover the space beyond”.  Fontana founded Spatialism, a movement reminiscent of Futurism, which celebrated rather than criticized Modernity. Fontana’s slashed and empty canvases seem to be a violent challenge against individuality. 

lucio_fontana_concetto_spaziale.jpg

7.  Yves Klein - The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void, 1958.  An exhibition held at Iris Clert Gallery, it featured an empty room, painted white.  Guests were served International Klein Blue colored cocktails.  Critic Thomas McEvilley, in an essay for Artforum in 1982, classified Klein as an early, though enigmatic, postmodernist.  Remember, postmodernism will not have anything to do with things enigmatic, favoring instead, the mundane.  Klein’s inclusion, no doubt, has much to do with his favoring of concept over the primacy of the image. 

8.  Frank Stella – The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1959.  Stella, an abstract post painterly minimalist, is heralded for creating abstract paintings that bear no pictorial illusions or psychological or metaphysical references.   It is, in a sense, superficial abstract art for corporations.  Unlike the abstract expressionist work before, there is no searching for something greater in the work; instead you are presented with a cold and indifferent face. 

9.  Andy Warhol - 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962.  Warhol’s work celebrates rather than criticizes modernity’s excesses of superficiality, celebrity culture, commerciality, and the mundane.  It is apolitical and devoid of emotional and social commentary.  The work seems symptomatic rather than critical of the times.

10.  Jospeh Kosuth - One and Three Chairs, 1965. A work that definitely demands a text for proper interpretation, it consists of a chair, a picture of the same chair in the gallery, and an enlarged photograph of a dictionary definition for chair.

11.  Bruce Nauman - The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, 1967. The work consists of the enigmatic title text displayed in the language of pop culture, a spiral neon sign.  It is meant to question what we perceive the role of the avant-garde artist to be in society.  Is it a noble gesture or a mocking call?  On the work Nauman says this:  “The most difficult thing about the whole piece for me was the statement. It was a kind of test—like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it. Once written down, I could see that the statement [...] was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. It's true and not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself. For me it's still a very strong thought.”  If one is to consider how seriously he practiced what he preached, one need only to look at other works such as his photograph Self Portrait as a Fountain,1966, which shows the artist spouting a stream of water from his mouth, or his installation, Clown Torture, 1987.  Nauman is also famous for saying, “If I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever I was doing in the studio must be art.”  I could not disagree more.  Fail.

12.  Donald Judd – Untitled, 1971. This work consists of six large, blue cubes lined up in a row.  It is cool, empty, detached, signifying nothing.  Judd might say that is the point, and to that I would say, you are a sad, sad man.

untitled 1971 judd.jpg

13.  Sol LeWitt - Wall Drawing #118, 1971 – Considered a founder of both minimalism and conceptual art, Sol Le Witt sought to destroy the notions of the artist author and as a champion of individuality.  Wall Drawing #118 consisted of a set of instructions for School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston students to make a drawing on a wall.  Not only did the work require other people’s hands, the set of instructions dictated that elements of randomness and chance be the guiding force necessary for execution.  I am not opposed to the use of chance in art.  Relinquishing some control in the art making process can produce interesting results, but to produce art that is totally dependent on chance, I do not believe that one can properly claim to be author of the results (assuming the results are even aesthetically valid).

lewitt 2.jpg

14.  Vito Acconci - Seedbed, 1971.  For two weeks in 1971, Vito Acconci laid below a ramp inside Sonnabend Gallery and jerked off while continually uttering his sexual fantasies about the visitors walking above him, which were broadcast through loudspeakers.  I am not shocked or disturbed by his actions; rather, I find myself asking, what is the point?  Aesthetics are certainly absent, so some sort of concept must be at work.  In an interview with The Believer, Acconci tells us the genesis of Seedbed:  “I wanted to be somewhere where I blended with the space . . . Under the floor seemed to be the most fertile, because I could move under the floor . . . But it still wasn’t clear to me at all what I would be doing there . . . So I’m stuck, and Roget’s Thesaurus sometimes is a kind of guide because it takes you from one word to another word that you might not have even known you were looking for. It’s—I don’t know if I can say it’s an idea-structuring system, but it’s an idea-loosening system. So I look up floor. Floor took me to expected words like structure, land, undercurrent. And then took me to the word, seedbed. Seedbed then clarified it that, OK, under the floor I could be making this seedbed, this bed of seed. How do I make the bed of seed? By masturbating.”  Essentially, then, Seedbed is about word play, not gender politic, not redefining the line between art and pornography, and not even about the precarious relationship between artist and art patron.  Fail.

15.  Sherrie Levine – After Walker Evans, 1980.  Levine’s work uses appropriation to raise questions of authenticity and commodification.  She deconstructs Modernism.  For After Walker Evans she re-photographed Walker Evans’ photographs, reproduced in an exhibit catalog.  Levine’s work does little to transcend Modernism, which she is obviously critical of, but rather works to belittle it, in order to make her look better by comparison.  She is a parasite.  Other artists she has deconstructed include Egon Schiele, Van Gogh, Degas, Cezanne, Miro, Mondrian, Monet, and Kirchner. 

16.  Tom Blackwell – Herald Square, 1983.  While it is possible to appreciate the realist aesthetic and the skill that goes into producing such works, it does nothing to comment on contemporary culture.  Photorealism, like Pop Art, champions the modern mundane.  Even supposing that it is a mirror held up to society, most mirrors are ineffective as a commentary.  They only flatter the subject.  Still, unlike a lot of Post-modern art, Photorealism technical proficiency is at least a labor of love.

17.  Jeff Koons – Two Ball 50/50 Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Spalding Dr. J. 241 Series), 1985.  The work consists of two basketballs floating in an aquarium.  That is it.  This particular work was my introduction to Post-modern art when I saw it at the Georgia Museum of Art in the summer of 1999.  I have been trying to understand ever since.  Perhaps there is nothing to understand.  Koons’ most famous piece, arguably, is his life-size gold leaf accented porcelain rendition of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988.  Like Warhol, Koons' apolitical work champions pop culture.  His work, by his own admition, contains no hidden meanings or critiques. 

koons.jpg

18.  Tehching Hsieh -   One Year Performance 1985–1986 (No Art Piece), 1985 - 1986.  For one year, Hsieh did no art, spoke no art, saw no art, read no art, and did not enter any museum or gallery.  This is a paradox.  If Hsieh did not create art for one year, then how can the investigation or result be considered art?  Hsieh is famous for his one year long endurance performances.  Other performances include voluntary incarceration, One Year Performance 1978–1979 (Cage Piece), where he was confined in a cell. He was not allowed to talk, to read, to write, or to listen to radio and TV.  In Art / Life: One Year Performance 1983-1984 (Rope Piece), he was tied to another artist, Linda Montano, for a year, with an 8-foot-long rope. They were not allowed to touch each other until the end of the one year period.  In yet another performance, One Year Performance 1981–1982 (Outdoor Piece), he had to avoid shelter of any kind for a year (buildings, cars, airplanes, tents, etc).  While it is arguable that these at least have some merit as art as sociological experiment, his (No Art Piece) definitely falls flat.

19.  Andres Serrano – Immersion (Piss Christ), 1987.  Perhaps you’ve heard of this one.  It is a photograph of Jesus on a crucifix suspended in a jar full of urine.  Despite some apologetic interpretations, aesthetics is not the issue here.  If aesthetics were the issue, then any number of alternative substances of similar appearance could have been used (amber, polyurethane), and Serrano would not have referenced to the use of urine in the title.  It might be suggested that Serrano was actively courting controversy, which is reverse pandering, shock for shock’s sake art.  Serrano, however, has gone on record as saying the art is a relativist concept, meant to provoke questions of what he perceives as a cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture.  This is in line with Sister Wendy Beckett’s interpretation, which is that it is a reflection of what contemporary culture has done with Christ and his teachings.  I still contend, however, that if Serrano truly respected the value and power of symbols, he would not have disrespected the icon.  Serrano’s argument, then, exposes him as a hypocrite.

20.  Rirkrit Tiravanija – pad thai, 1990.  In this work, and in several others following, Tiravanija takes over a gallery, prepares food, and shares it with gallery visitors.  Art historian Rochelle Steiner says of Tiravanija’s work, it “is fundamentally about bringing people together.”  I do not see how changing the context, from kitchen to a gallery, makes this art.  If all Tiravanija wanted was to bring people together in a gallery, wouldn’t a proper exhibit of art produce the same results?  And concerning Tiravanija’s obsession with sharing food, I believe the world would be better served if he instead volunteered his time in a soup kitchen for the homeless. 

21.  Damien Hirst – Untitled (With BlackDot), 1988.  There are over a thousand variations of similar, spotted works, created by Hirst and his army of assistants.  All trace of human intervention is removed until the finished product appears to be constructed mechanically.  Lacking in anything resembling authenticity, Hirst’s paintings can only be enjoyed ironically.  As Jonathan Jones writes in his article for The Guardian, “They are paintings to show off at cocktail parties; paintings to decorate PR company offices:  paintings to snort coke in front of.”

22.  Paul McCarthy, Painter, 1995. This video performance piece mocks the modern myth of the painter as a great hero.  While I like that he uses humor to challenge bourgeoisie mores in his other work, notably their uncomfortably with sex, (his publicly displayed Christmas themed works bear an uncanny resemblance to butt-plugs), I did not care for how he turned the notion of modernist painting as something sacred into something to be ridiculed.  Without any sign of idealism, McCarthy’s critique and art becomes hollow, and the artist reduced to being nothing more than a nihilist clown.

23.  Chris Ofili – The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996.  Another shock for shock’s sake piece along the lines of Serrano’s Piss Christ, Ofili’s work pictures the Virgin Mary painted with elephant dung and collaged with pornographic elements.  I truly doubt Ofili’s sincerity when he said the work shouldn’t offend, that the work is only meant to be experienced aethetically.  If the work mocked Buddhism, Islam, or Judaism, however, I would hypothesize that the art world would not be so forgiving.  Ofili was also in another controversy in 2005.  While serving as a trustee on the board for the Tate Gallery, Ofili brokered the sale of his The Upper Room for over a million dollars to the gallery, all while the gallery presented itself as being in trouble and solicited, with Ofili’s help, donations of free work from other artists.  Notably, a collection of Stuckist work valued at over $500,000 dollars was rejected.

24.  Tracy Ermin – My Bed, 1998.  A disheveled bed, everyday bedroom objects and detritus, and condoms.  It is literally the artist’s bed moved into a gallery setting.  There is no commentary, no craft, and no concept, other than the artist’s own narcissism for her to assume that the mundane aspects of her personal life were of any interest to the public.

25.  Marco Evaristti, Ice Cube Project, 2004. Brought to you from the artist who created Helena, 2000 (the live goldfish in the blender) Ice Cube Project is Evaristti’s attempt to cover an iceberg off the coast of Greenland in red paint. Of the work he says,“We all have a need to decorate Mother Nature because it belongs to all us. This is my iceberg; it belongs to me.”  We are forced to decide whether the work is sacrilegious or ironic statement.  Even if one takes the statement ironically, and we read the work as a critique on environmental destruction, we are left with the artist’s actual work being hypocritical.

26.  Jacob Collins, Red Head, 2004.  A fine example of Classical Realism, Classical Realism seeks a return to classical ideals of beauty; it champions the production of art reminiscent of late 19th century Academic Salon work, although some elements of Impressionism have also been incorporated.  It is backward looking, idealism for the past without much concern for the future.  While it is possible to appreciate the skill that goes into producing such works and to admire the beautiful work that results, it does little to comment on contemporary culture.  It failed to do so in the late 19th Century and it fails to do so now.  Still, there are at least some things redeeming in the work; it is at least a loving quest to discover beauty, and there is something noble in that.

Red Head.jpg

27.  Martin Creed, Being Sick (Work No. 547), 2006.  There is nothing noble here.  Being Sick is a video loop of close ups of 19 different people vomiting. Creed won the Turner Prize in 2001 for Work No. 227, an empty room where the light goes on and off at five second intervals.  There is nothing here, no commentary or concept other than pure nihilism.

28.  Nathan Coley - There will be No Miracles Here, 2006.  A sad but challenging work, it is a large illuminated sign spelling out the phrase named in the title.  Ironically, the text piece depends on text in order to get to the concept.  The work refers to an obscure event that took place in the French town Modseine in the 17th century.  So many miracles were reported in the town that finally the message “there will be no more miracles here, by order of the King” was sent in order to keep things under control.  I would have preferred that the sign was meant to be a wake up call to artists, to produce in them the desire to once again make miracles, but this is not Coley’s M.O.  In interviews, Coley, like many other Post-modernists, seems a bit of a skeptic.  I believe we have to take the sign at face value and figure that Coley would believe that miracles in art are no longer possible.  There will be No Miracles Here won the Turner Prize in 2007.

29.  Aliza Shvarts – Untitled (Abortion Art), 2008. In 2008 Yale undergraduate gained fleeting prominence for a year long performance where she documented her repeated artificial inseminating of herself, and then repeated self-induced miscarriages.  She described her efforts in typical postmodernist opaque language: ‘This piece – in its textual and sculptural forms – is meant to call into question the relationship between form and function as they converge on the body. The artwork exists as the verbal narrative you see above, as an installation that will take place in Green Hall, as a time-based performance, as a [sic] independent concept, as a myth and as a public discourse . . . It creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership.’  Abortion ethics debate aside, Shvarts’ work naively makes light of the emotional difficulties that a woman would experience in the course of an induced or natural miscarriage.  There is nothing else naïve about the work, however.  It might be cynical of me, but I believe the work was nothing but a publicity stunt to jump-start her career in the arts.

30.  Pedro Campos - Hot Day III, 2008.  Hot Day III is an example of Hyperrealism, Photorealism’s more recent offshoot.  Most Hyperrealist work continues Photoralism’s tend of promoting the mundane and banal in art, although there is some hope in the work of artists such as Gottfried Helnwein.  Helnwein uses Hyperrealist technique to produce work that is both humanist and a social critique.  A decent example of his art can be seen in Downtown 20, 2002.

31.  Marni Kotak – The Birth of Baby X, 2011.  And I thought there was nothing more narcissistic than Tracey Ermin’s work.  In The Birth of Baby X, Kotak gives birth to a child in a gallery, re-contextualizing her life/art.  Before this, the artist often took events in her life and recreated them as art.  Ever since then, she has exploited her son, Ajax, as part of her ongoing performances of Raising Baby X

Postmodern International Art English Gibberish by Chris Hall

Noam Chomsky on Postmodernist language:   What I find is extremely pretentious, but on examination, a lot of it is simply illiterate . . .lots of statements that are trivial (though dressed up in complicated verbiage) or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish.  

Christopher Hitchens on Postmodern language:  The Postmodernists’ tyranny wears people down by boredom and semi-literate prose.  

Perhaps you don’t know what language I am referring to.  David Thompson, in his article Art Bollocks is Everywhere gives a great example in Carolyn Guertin’s essay, “Wanderlust:  The Kinesthetic Browser in Cyberfeminist Space.”

The shuffling and unfolding of the information of her body in sensory space is enacted across a gap or trajectory of subjecthood that is multiple and present.  Subjectivity is the lens and connector through which the spacio-temporal dislocation gets focused and bridged.  The gap is outside vision – felt not seen – and always existing on the threshold in between nodes.  Like the monster’s subjectivities, all knots in the matrix are linked.

In 1996 Physicist Alan Sokal submitted an essay entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries:  Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to Social Text, an academic journal for Postmodern Cultural Studies, sponsored by Duke University.  The article was accepted.  Shortly afterwards Alan Sokal exposed the work as a hoax, an essay of buzzword filled gibberish.  “Nowhere in [the essay] is there anything resembling a logical sequence of thought; one finds only citations of authority, plays on words, strained analogies, and bald assertions.”

Why did he did he do it?  It wasn’t because he was right leaning critic of the left (Social Text states that its mission is to cover questions of gender, sexuality, race, and the environment).   No, Sokal believes that the left intellectual elite have gone off track:  

Why did I do it?  I confess that I’m an unabashed Old Leftist who never quite understood how deconstruction was supposed to help the working class.  And I’m a stodgy old scientist who believes, naively, that there exists an external world, that there exist objective truths about that world, and that my job is to discover them . . . Theorizing about ‘the social construction of reality’ won’t help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming.  Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity.


Chomsky also suggests that these writers are, as Nemo says on in a blog post entitled Chomsky on Postmodern Theory, “apolitical charlatans doing nothing to advance the cause of social justice.”  I would agree, but that is for another blog on another day.  Returning to the language, why has academia adopted such puffed up, pompous, impenetrable rhetoric? It is a linguistically meaningless jumble of buzzwords and critical posturing, borrowed from such French theorists as Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault (all champions of Postmodernism).  The writing is often obtuse, polysyllabic, and full of unnecessary and meaningless words.  Honestly, why use words like “horizontality” when “horizontal” will suffice.  Reading Postmodernist writing gives me a headache.  There is nothing pleasing in the language, nothing to attract me to the writing.  It is never clear or concise.  Perhaps the reason why academia uses such an opaque, pompous and suffocating language is insecurity.  Could it be that the humanities writers are insecure that their work has no meaning when faced against the sciences, who also use, necessarily, a jargon filled language, but to better effect?  Or is it an insecurity that they themselves are a fraud, and they must obfuscate their content with opaque and imposing language? After all, using a clear and transparent language would mean intellectual honesty and the risk of public correction. 


Academic Postmodern puffery has infiltrated the visual arts.  Perhaps the first person to call attention to this was Brian Ashbee who wrote an article for Art Review in 1999 entitled A Beginners Guide to Art Bollocks and How to be a Critic.  In it he muses: 

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Vision is primary, according to this view, and language secondary.  But not anymore – not, at least, in the visual arts, where the experience of the work of art is often meaningless without the critical text to support it.  This is especially true of much installation art, photography, conceptual art, video and other practices generally called post-modern . . . This is not art to be looked at; this is art to talk about and write about.  It doesn’t reward visual attention; it generates text.  In that, it is the model for much art since the ‘60’s, which we have come to call post-modern:  art as a machine for producing language.

In 2012 Alix Rule and David Levine coined the term International Art English to describe the language currently in vogue among Art Cognoscenti.  They cataloged and studied thousands of museum and gallery press releases and published their results in Triple Canopy.  “The language,” they write, “has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English.”

The problem is that what Brian Ashbee defines as post-modern art practices (with their baggage of bad language) has become institutionalized in both the art world and in academia.  In order to get ahead in the art world, and by extension, the academic world, one has to put on pretenses and use the default language of postmodern puffery (International Art English).  In Why Truth Matters, Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom write, “Theory’s near hegemony in literary and cultural studies has had various important consequences.  It has changed the way many subjects are taught, and the status of particular approaches.  This in turn has had an effect on faculty hiring and promotion, and in what gets published in journals and books, which naturally has changed the rules of what people need to do to succeed.” Brian Ashbee also posits that: 

We may be in a situation that mirrors that of the 19th century.  Most of the art that was deemed important then, which was exhibited in the annual salons and written about in the newspapers, is now forgotten.  The art which has proven historically significant was produced outside the system, in opposition to the academic establishment . . . Since the 1960’s, we have witnessed the complete institutionalization of the avant-garde.  Our major institutions are devoted to cutting-edge art.  Apart from a brief flurry of expressionist painting in the ‘80’s, most of this has been in the areas of conceptual art, photography, video and installation.  This is the work that people in power in our institutions deem significant.  It gets written about, funded, and shown.  It is the Official Art of our time.

I am in complete agreement with Brian Ashbee, with one exception.  I believe that those artists who work outside of postmodernist practices are the true inheritors of the avant-garde tradition.  These artists are the ones that challenge our institutions of accepted pedagogy. For all their pluralist posturing (we welcome all types of art practices and denounce all hierarchies) they do little to hide their contempt for traditional craft, which they deem passé and politically unsound.  For example, take Jake and Dinos Chapman, who during a 2003 debate for The Guardian with former London ICA Chairman Ivan Massow dropped this nugget:  "You see, in our most humble opinion, the overt fetishisation of pastoral handicrafts by the bourgeoisie served the purpose of obscuring the true relations of Capital . . . "  Masson, it should be noted, was encouraged to resign in 2002 for his critical stance against the Art World's obsession with Conceptual Art, further evidence that having an opinion on art outside the norm is detrimental for your career.

It is clear to me that the use of Postmodern and International Art Language is often used to prop up weak arguments and weaker art, but what can we do about it?  Perhaps we can choose to parody it and expose it for what it is, as Alan Sokal has done.  Perhaps we can write to our institutions and newspapers and demand more from our art.  The following are some interesting links that parody Postmodern and International Art Language.  You might get a good laugh out of them.  

Postmodern Essay Generator by Andrew C. Bulhak and Josh Lario:  www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

Art Statement Generator by David James Ross and Joke de Winter:  www.artybollocks.com/

Art Biography Generator by Jasper Rigole:  www.500letters.org

Instant Critique Generator by Petra Haschen.  Create your Critical Response to the Art Product – “CRAP” for short.  The website states, “Now you can produce CRAP critiques as easily and fluently as anyone in your MFA program!”:  www.pixmaven.com/phase_generator.html

As always, defending the right for all people to appreciate and understand art against Intellectual Elitism.

Animal Abuse in Art (and Its Defenders) by Chris Hall

Among many of the abuses of common sense and decency that Postmodern Conceptual Art has perpetrated, perhaps the most egregious is the tacit acceptance of animal abuse as art.  Although there is always a backlash from those outside of the art world, those inside the art world (its patrons, institutions, galleries, and museums) still offer support of those artists who have in the past or are currently directly engaged in the torture and killing of animals.  While many of these artists justify their art in terms of presenting a moral relativist argument, pointing out the hypocrisy of why we kill some animals and keep others as pets, or why we should find one act of violence shocking while we find other acts of perpetrated violence (war, poverty, crime, etc) acceptable, some of these artists don’t even attempt an explanation and are just deeply sick and cruel.  The following is a list of some of these artists who have crossed the line from art to animal abuse criminality.  

In 1977 American artist Tom Otterness rescued a dog from a shelter, only to document his shooting of it on a film entitled “Shot Dog Film.”  Unlike many other artists who traffic in animal abuse as art, Otterness has apologized, in 2008, when his pricey public sculpture commission was threatened.  

In 1988, Finnish artist Teemu Maki, recorded his killing of a cat that he rescued from a shelter which he entitled “Sex and Death.”  He killed the cat with small ax and then masturbated over it.  In 1990 Maki was fined the equivalent of $340 for fraud (he signed a document from the shelter promising to treat the cat well and not to harm it).  Maki has shown no remorse and has since become a success in the art world.  The Kiasma museum in Helsinki, in 2004, has even purchased the video for their collection.

teemu maki.jpeg

In 2000 Chilean artist Marco Evaristti had an installation titled “Helena and El Pescado” at Denmark’s Trapholt Modern Museum of Art.  “Helena and El Pescado” consisted of ten kitchen blenders filled with water and live goldfish.  Evaristti invited patrons to turn on the blender; one enthusiast did.  Evaristti recently had a retrospective of his work shown in Kolding, Denmark.

In 2001 Canadian artist Jesse Power, with the help of two other people, tortured and killed a cat.  They cut off an ear and removed an eye from the hanging cat, which was then skinned alive and disemboweled.  The whole thing was recorded as part of an art project.  In a video documenting the incident, 2004’s “Casuistry:  the Art of Killing a Cat,” two galley curators who had shown Power’s work previously, defended the artist, giving examples of other artists who used animal carcasses in avant-garde art.  At least in this case, the artist and collaborators spent some time in jail.  

In 2004, Dutch artist Katinka Simonse, aka Tinkerwell, snapped the neck of her pet cat Pinkeltjie in the name of art.  She skinned the cat and turned it into a purse and then justified her action by saying that the cat was depressed.  This work is not an aberration for Tinkerbell.  Her work frequently employs the torture of animals and then the mutilation of animal remains. 

In 2007 Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas Jimenez aka Habacuc captured a street dog, chained it up to a wall just out of reach of food, and (reportedly) starved it to death in a Nicaraguan art gallery.  In recognition for his contribution to art he was invited to participate, and recreate the incident at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras in 2008.  Although the gallery director later said the whole thing was a hoax (the dog, he said, was feed and later escaped out the back door) not one of the gallery patrons expressed outrage, tried to help the dog, or notify the authorities about the perceived abuse. 

In 2012 Belgian artist Jan Fabre began throwing tranquillized cats up a set of stairs in order to hear them scream and smack into the ground.  This took place in Antwerp’s Town Hall for a documentary about himself. 

What is disturbing most to me is not that these monsters exist (there have always been monsters), but that these monsters are supported and subsidized by the established art elite, in the form of directors and curators in galleries and museums, and with government grants.  These artist monsters are only a small fraction of the Conceptual Art community, but the fact that they are accepted and defended in the "everything is permissible" world of art, where there is a conflation of art and real life (with real life consequences) is unacceptable to me.  I hope that the public backlash against animal abuse as art will eventually change the culture that defends the actions of these monsters.