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Re: Book Art vs. Book Arts

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On Thu, 30 Aug 2001, Jules Siegel wrote:
> > It seems to me that the parallel between American support of abstract
> > expressionism, and Soviet support of Socialist Realism is highly tendentious,
> What do you mean by this? The dictionary definition is "marked by a tendency
> in favor of a particular point of view." Which point of view am I favoring
> markedly?
> > and, indeed, not only not to be taken seriously
> Why not?
> >--but not intended to be.
> I am quite serious about it.
> > It should have been obvious, that Jules raised the issue of politics as a red
> > herring,
> I raised the point to demonstrate that art criticism can be politically
> inspired.

Demonstration? Ha!

> Answer these questions: Do you consider yourself to be anti-communist?
> Anti-Stalinist? Feel that I'm a pinko? Anti-American? Consider it trivial
> that Clement Greene's vicious attacks on certain artists destroyed their
> careers and, it is said, caused some to commit suicide?
These are not questions. This is a senseless and aimless diatribe, a car
wreck of a paragraph, with question marks for skid marks, or, maybe a car
crash filmsplice cut from some noire-ish sixties film. It does have a
faint, nostalgic, charm, but, in any case, it is not rational argument.

> As you can see, what I am getting at is that there's a distinct possibility
> that your erroneous interpretation of my intent is based on your own
> political agenda. So let's get that out in front.

Right. Or, it could simply be a spontaneous response to what I erroneously
mistook for an entirely capricious and mean spirited character
assassination of Clement Greenberg coupled to what I understood to be a
provincial and dogmatic pronouncement that abstract art is "meaningless,"
a response that might have arisen from a freely held belief that reductive
pronouncements on what other people actually find meaningful, fortified
with political mystifications is at best a kind of sour grapes and
at worst a kind of cultural narcissism.

> > with the sole intention of minimizing the work of abstract artists
> (i.e., book > artists who work in non-traditional forms),
> If you actually read my messages, you'll see that despite my personal
> preferences for craftsmanship, physical beauty and easily accessible
> meaning, I was arguing in favor of broad definitions rather than narrow
> ones, even when those broad definitions include works that I personally find
> ludicrous.

If I were actually reading your mind I might have seen this, perhaps.

> One reason is that I appreciate the impulse to use art as a form of
> ridicule. Luckily, since I'm a writer as well as an artist, I can use verbal
> sarcasm instead.
> > But, of course, as a critic, what do I know about art?
> Humility helps. Glad to see that you recognize your own limits. The best way
> to learn more about art would be to create some in a physical sense. Writing
> is art, of course, but it's not the same thing as a painting or an object.
I am delighted to have made you glad. You will likewise be gladdened to
know that, in a sense, I agree that one can learn about art process
through imitation (and did so when I attended art school). But process is
not art--a point many people have already made. Whatever else it is, it
affords one a valuable channel into cultural discourses about art. But it
is not the only channel, and to privilege art-making as "the best way" to
learn about art," is to fold oneself back into a kind of provincialism
that credentials "insider reports" over judgment and analysis. This sort
of us/them prejudice makes sense in some contexts. To learn about medicine
it would make sense to become a doctor (though not to do some doctoring
"in a physical sense"). To learn about cabinet making, become a carpenter.
But, in the humanities it makes less sense. even no sense. To learn about
Christianity, for example, one doesn't sing Ave Maria.  A recruiting
poster that hangs in the men's room in the library of the American
Antiquarian Society reads, "Don't just read American history, make it."
Fighting or dying in the war, is, presumably, a way to do history "in a
physical sense," but,this is really just a rhetorical call to arms. Let's
not talk about art, boys, let's make it! sounds like the same cry.

In an essay that in many ways I actually dislike, "Methods, Theories, and
the Terrors of History," Russell McCutcheon points out that, "without
taking insider reports [about religion] and interpretations seriously we
would have no descriptive data to study," BUT "scholars [critics] must
carefully devise defensible criteria to determine at what level of
analysis they do or do not suspend such first person explanatory
authority." I think it is important to appropriate this insight because it
helps me to liberate my thinking from the provincialism of the guild.
Art objects are indispensable starting points for analysis and evaluation
of art, but simply to credential art makers to tell us what art means (or
doesn't mean), or to subsume meaning to process is to forfeit our
obligation as critics.

Michael Joseph

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