Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Non-Art", "artspeak"

Art critic Donald Kuspit has written a number of excellent articles and a book (The End of Art) about what he refers to as "post-art" (sometimes also referred to as "non-art"). I have recently come across a couple examples of non-art that I found to be particularly notable. "Art" of this sort is generally accompanied by "artspeak"-- a largely meaningless jargon that is used by art critics, art historians, gallery owners, museum directors, and artists. You will be likely to run into artspeak in things like the "artist's statement" and in art reviews written by art critics; also at art galleries, art museums, and in art history classes. I would like to present a couple examples of non-art, both of which are accompanied by artspeak.

First, a piece I found in New American Paintings, a periodical that I regularly look at. It is really more of a book than a magazine. I find a lot of work in NAP that I really like; I also find a lot of work that is apallingly bad. Oftentimes, the work that I like is from artists with a BFA or even no degree at all; the work I like the least is often coming from people with a MFA. It seems to me that the main goal of a great many MFA programs is for students to achieve a mastery of artspeak. (That being said, of course some artists with a MFA do produce some really excellent work.)

(Unnamed artist), Phlag, 2006, oil stick on paper, 27" x 22"

This piece is by a woman who, to save her any embarrassment, I am not going to name. She is probably a very nice person. This woman has... you guessed it, a MFA degree. This means that she probably spent at least six years and many thousands of dollars to be able to produce work of such high quality. I hope she (or her parents) feels that she (they) got her (or their) money's worth. Here is her artist's statement-- a lukewarm example of artspeak:

In these drawings, I am exploring ideas about place, working from memories of nature. I'm interested in how place is also form. An image begins as a reconstruction of an imagined place using limited formal and material choices--in this case oil sticks. As the structure develops, the place often becomes a kind of self-contained object, cluster, or character, like the bundling up of a memory.
Art: F
Artspeak: C+

Next up is a piece I found in the current issue of that bastion of cutting edge contemporary art, Art in America. This is a piece of "land art", a relative of installation art and "found" art. If you want to read a bunch of artpeak, Art in America is the place to go.

Pawel Althamer, Path, dirt path, 1km

The review, part of a longer article by Gregory Volk:

The best new work at the Aasee, and possibly the best work in the exhibition, was a modest, unmarked dirt footpath, a little over half a mile long, by Polish artist Pawel Althamer. It started near a paved walkway and then veered off at an angle through the park, across meadows and a road, and out into a farmer's fields, where it eventually came to an end. Althamer's work was so unobtrusive and seemingly mundane that it could have easily been mistaken for a short-cut, though starting nowhere in particular and leading to no discernible destination. As you walked along this footpath (a muddy affair, when I visited) it became surprisingly meaningful and complex. In a place where pedestrians and bicycle riders largely stick to pavement, Althamer's Path posited a flight from orderliness, rules and routines. Waling felt different on it. You notice vegetation and the contours of the land, you were curious and also uncertain about where you were headed, and you also felt far more solitary than you would have on the usual routes. Negotiating its way between a manicured urban park and adjacent farmlands, society and solitude, public lands and private property, Althamer's path suggested an escape from the city, eve a kind of restorative pilgrimage--into nature, into the self, into freedom.
To anyone with anyone with an ounce of common sense, this is merely a path through a field. To Mr. Volk, however, this is an artwork of the highest quality--"possibly the best work in the exhibition."

Art: F
Artspeak: A+!!!

Not surprisingly, Mr. Volk is an instructor of art at a University college of art. Thank God we have visionaries like Mr. Volk teaching students how to be real artists!

1 comment:

Bailey said...

I completely agree with you on the first one. That people spend thousands on art "education" to scribble on an index card boggles the mind. The artspeak was appalling. Insipid and nonsensical. She deserves the embarrassment of having her name attached to this post if she actually put this out into the world expecting anyone to appreciate it.

The path installation...I am on the fence about. I feel like you would have to walk the path to truly judge it. I still don't think it would probably rank in the highest class of art but the idea feels a tiny bit inspired, and I think it could be something if it was executed well. Were there more pictures than this one?