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[BKARTS] WOID #XI-31. Play it like Becker

Susan, I appreciate the art-historian's perspective you bring to our online discussions about quality in art. Still I take issue with your last point, that your students' opinions "don't make a difference."

Like you I’ve read Howard Becker’s “Art Worlds,” and like you I’ve come away with increased respect for "interpretative communities," the groups that develop around the artist, the genre or the event. These groups may participate, or encourage or complain, but either way they reinforce the energy field. If you stick the words Book and Art together often enough people might start to believe there is such a thing as Book Arts. When someone dishes Picasso the net result is more Google hits for “Picasso.”

In my nine years at the Guggenheim Museum I lectured on Norman Rockwell one day, on a guy who dribbles Vaseline down the walls another. It didn't really matter if I criticized Rockwell and praised Barney or the other way around. What mattered was, that I was feeding and feeding off the buzz. Wittingly and unwillingly, I was part of the Guggenheim's world-wide plans, which are the cultural equivalent of the IMF.

Where we part ways, is that I never felt I was a mere tool. In fact, I did a considerable amount of consciousness-raising in my lectures. Most important, I was working from the premiss that the artworlds Becker describes are not static: they change, and they can be changed. There are many roles available within each world: Breakaway Sect, Vertical Invader (otherwise known as Bad Boy), Radical, etc, and they have practical consequences. They engage us in certain forms of behavior for which we are ultimately answerable, aesthetically and morally. To my mind, for instance, Richard Minsky has mastered the Bad Boy act far more than the technique: it’s not only fair to criticize him for not living up to his own self-definitions; it’s the only fair way.

Might it be a useful teaching strategy to suggest to your students the different roles they, too, might play within this particular world, and how effective such roles might be for accomplishing the goals they hold dear, whether making a mint or making a World Revolution? Just a thought.

Paul T Werner, New York

WOID: A journal of visual language

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