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What to Expect From Art - Intersesting article.

What to Expect From Art
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 March, 2001

I gave up on the idea of making Art a long time ago, because I wanted to
know how to make paintings; but once I came to know that, reconsidering the
question of what Art is returned as a critical issue. A painting is a
material object: measurable, readable, knowable. The concept "Art" resists
easy definition and is therefore contingent on shifting ideas and
relationships. Paintings and other art forms aspire to the status of Art,
but these things don't necessarily meet.

I wanted to understand what the painters I admired knew that made them able
to achieve such marvelous effects. I tried to codify the difference between
really great work and mediocre pictures. Without this standard, it seemed
quite impossible to set a mark that would guide my explorations and serve
as the foundation for critical self-evaluation. I learned how exceedingly
difficult it is to make compelling paintings, given the challenges set by
the incredible inventory of work already made. Surpassing the achievements
of the masters was out of the question, but getting up alongside them on
the wall seemed reasonably possible. I've spent all my energies trying to
do that much.

I find myself at a crossroad today, mildly interested in some of the things
I see, rarely excited, and discouraged by the lack of clarity and aesthetic
ambition breeding in art schools. Popular end-game philosophies have been
too easily accepted. Experts -- critics, curators, and many art-school
professors -- have been of little help in clarifying the terms of
excellence. When, in 1999, The New York Times asked a selection of them the
question "Is It Art, Is It Good, and Who Says So?" the consensus answer was
not illuminating: "Anything can be a work of art, if an artist, or someone
in the know, says it is." ...

Now, we know that in Art anything goes; but not everything is interesting.
Yet few seem willing to assert clear standards or definitions. Even the
concept of quality itself is, in theory, a suspect notion. Judgments are
often vague, obscured in a rhetorical mist that not only clouds the
perception of laypeople, but can be virtually impenetrable to the initiated
as well. Description replaces analysis, a camouflage for shallow insight. ...

Can we expect more clarity in the art world of the future? More chaos?
Nostalgia? Sentimentality? More irony? (No more of that, please!) Well,
I've consulted the cards, and here is the story they tell. Bear in mind: I
am only the messenger.

After several more years of incredible growth, the Art Industrial Complex
will collapse under its own weight. Thirty percent of the world's
population, an estimated 3.5 billion people with master-of-fine-arts
degrees, will have no outlets for their work. Dominant globalism will have
erased significant cultural differences, so that everyone's work looks more
and more alike. The Art industry will be controlled by a network of
super-galleries, known by its acronym, PAC, or Pan Aesthetic Coterie, a
shadow society run by ex-museum docents fired for curatorial espionage.

Artists in their stables will fight like gladiators in a network of
white-walled arenas for winner-take-all exhibition privileges. The weapon,
their art. Only master artists, skilled in every medium, who know the true
meaning of the forms, can compete. It takes precision, wit, and daring to
win, and the payoff is big. The victor receives a grant of $20-million, a
coffee-table monograph, and simultaneous exhibitions in all 50 of the PAC's
affiliated galleries worldwide. The losers are banished from the creative
arena posthaste, never to be heard from again -- forever outside art history.

The challenge is made. The terms are set. Is it Art? Is it Good? How does
it matter?

The text and artwork are from the book Kerry James Marshall, by Kerry James
Marshall, a painter, photographer, printmaker, and installation artist who
is a professor of art at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The book is
published by Harry N. Abrams Inc.

Section: The Chronicle Review
Page: B19

Copyright  2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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