THE REAL DIRT ON ABSTRACT PAINTING

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Modern poetry triumphed in the schools due to the work of the Fugitive/New Critics like Warren, Ransom, Tate, Brooks, their textbooks (“Understanding Poetry”) their associates (Paul Engle, I.A. Richards, Robert Frost, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell) and their associates in turn, but modern painting did modern poetry one better: abstract painting, as hateful to working class people as modern poetry, managed to triumph in the market. 

Why? 

The answer lies not so much in aesthetics, but in the link between Modern Architecture and Modern Painting.   Modern painting’s manifesto-points merely aped those of Bauhaus architecture.  As Austrian architect Adolph Loos put it, “Ornament is a crime.”     The key was cement.   Building large modern buildings brought in corporate millions.  The commerical, practical element of modern architecture pulled modern painting along with it.   The modern architects befriended, and collected the work of, the modern painters.   The combination of pioneer-ism, coterie-ism, and huge ugly buildings drawing monumental amounts of corporate cash overwhelmed public taste and a new era of “art” was born.

The aesthetics of Modernism was created before the 20th century by artists like Turner, Whistler, Baudelaire and countless others in Africa, Asia; the Modernists themselves simply cashed in as opportunists in the wake of the new ‘cement-mixer’ architecture.

Even the most blunt, astute philistines who objected to modern painting couldn’t see the writing on the wall of the Seagrams Building (Philip Johnson, Mies Van der Rohe, designers).   No one could quite figure out modern painting’s success.

Al Capp missed, but came close, with these two quotes:

“Picasso was a sensible kid. He knew he couldn’t go any further—not along the  traditional path, where talent was measured by the classic standards of truth and beauty. So he beat out another path—a crazy, crooked one, leading nowhere; and despite the jeering of the art world, he kept at it, turning out more balmy and offensive stuff every year until the art world began wondering if it hadn’t made a mistake, if there wasn’t something secretly good in stuff that looked so bad. The answer, of course, is that they were right in the first place—and history will someday make that judgement. But I’m sure Picasso couldn’t care less. He’s loaded. And the world’s galleries are loaded with his fakery.”

“Some people dismiss abstract artists as frauds. I don’t. I think quite a few are perfectly sincere, as sincere as those mystics of another great society—those Romans, I mean, who read augurs and portents into a slit lamb’s intestines. The only difference is that our mystics splash splatter paint until they create something as distasteful as lamb’s intestines—and we read augurs and portents into their messes.”

The real answer lay in those skyscrapers designed by graduates of the Modernist Bauhaus school. 

The principle was explained in Poe’s Purloined Letter; it was the size of those cement Bauhaus monstrosities, the sheer volume and obviousness of it all, which eluded the critics.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What Do You Mean, Then?

Our artist expects no elaborate thanks
For these canvases of obscure blanks;
Selected critics’ praise and money
Will make this colony’s honey.
If Rothko’s bank account does well,
Working folk who wish to understand can go to hell.
But I’m no working class swine,
I understand theosophy and wine,
And I can tell you what the painting means in the end:
Some artist was some critic’s was some banker’s friend.

About these ads

51 Comments

  1. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    July 2, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Architecture is frozen music:
    Goethe he said it, and his voice is still callin’.
    So I.M. Pei’s Hancock is a mad piece by Schoenberg:
    With crescendi accented by windows a-fallin’.

  2. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    July 2, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    If you’re a fan of satirical brilliance,
    And genius that’s rendered with little disparity,
    Check out “Li’l Abner: The Frazetta Years”,
    Four volumes of wondrously rendered hilarity.

    They feature the Sunday strips of “Li’l Abner”
    From the late 1940s ’til King Jack was boss.
    Such brilliance, e’en prescience is not oft encountered.
    Unjustly neglected! Ignore at your loss!

  3. Marcus Bales said,

    July 3, 2010 at 2:38 am

    The Fellowship for Putting Stupid Theories into Schools

    We’re known by many names across the spectrum left to right
    Promoting fear and ostracism, ignorance and blight,
    We promise health and happiness in dimly distant days
    And ask your current sacrifice to give ourselves a raise.
    We don’t get caught because we’ve got new education rules
    As one by one we take away our children’s thinking tools:
    The Fellowship for Putting Stupid Theories into Schools.

    It’s awkward when our kids come home with something they have learned
    That would have in the good old days have got us staked and burned.
    They question blind authority as if that were old hat,
    They judge our bland hypocrisy – and we’ll have none of that!
    They’ve even said that we should have alternative energy fuels!
    But we’ll stop that: we’ll take away their critical thinking tools:
    The Fellowship for Putting Stupid Theories into Schools.

    Postmodernist, conservative, we’re pretty much on par
    We undermine enlightenment embracing the bizarre.
    Oh, nothing good will come of it if children learn to think —
    They’ll realize we’ve left them at and teetering on the brink.
    Our only hope’s to rot their brains and turn them into fools
    By teaching tests instead of teaching critical thinking tools.
    The Fellowship for Putting Stupid Theories into Schools.

    Whenever you have heard a child say something really dumb,
    Or seen adults enamored with what art has now become,
    Or read about the legislature’s vote to buy a tank
    Instead of raising teachers’ pay, it’s us you have to thank –
    It isn’t just by accident our citizens are fools —
    For we’re the ones who give the zealous ignorant their tools:
    The Fellowship for Putting Stupid Theories into Schools.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    July 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

    China is an excellent example of a contemporary-art market gone wrong. It seemed to get bigger and frothier without a corresponding curatorial and critical framework for “what makes a work interesting,” says Magnus Renfrew, director of the ART HK fair and a former contemporary-art specialist at Bonhams in London. As a result, auction houses, with their marketing prowess and international reach—as opposed to academic journals, galleries and museums—became the place where careers were created. Says Renfrew: “Because the commercial value of a work became the primary way of evaluating its value, work became good because it was expensive rather than expensive because it was deemed to be good.”

    It’s hard to determine whether collectors were the cause or the victims of the frenzy. Ninety percent of the buyers were American or European. “Many were buying with their ears, not their eyes,” says Sundaram Tagore, a grandnephew of the Indian poet Rabindranath and a dealer with galleries in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Tagore has seen his revenue drop by 70 percent in the past year, but says good works by key artists— especially in the $500,000 and over range —have been moving. Among them: the textured, monochrome paintings by India’s Sohan Qadri inspired by meditation, and the hypnotic waterfall images created by Japan’s Hiroshi Senju with crushed-seashell pigments on rice paper.

    –Newsweek, March 28, 2009

  5. Marcus Bales said,

    July 3, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Thomasbrady said: “… As a result, auction houses, with their marketing prowess and international reach—as opposed to academic journals, galleries and museums—became the place where careers were created.”

    The tone of your post seems to disparage the notion that the market ought to have anything to do with ‘creating careers’ – which is just the opposite of what you said in your post about poetry. There, you advocated a bicameral art world: one of commerce and competition among poets for the public’s attention, and one of calm and reflection about poets dead, and theory. But now you seem, in the case of this China example, to disagree with your own notion, once you see it in action.

  6. thomasbrady said,

    July 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Marcus,

    I’m sorry if I misled you—that comment above was a quote from Newsweek; those aren’t my words.

    When it comes to the market, the price of paintings, especially modern paintings, don’t make a lot of sense to ‘the man in the street.’

    Collectors in the art world, ‘amateurs’ who happen to have a lot of money, are really collecting money, not art. They are investing in ‘names’ like Rothko, Warhol, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet, etc.

    Only last week, the modern art collection of Cezannes, Picassos, etc which belonged to Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was sold at Southebys for over 4 million. Vollard was a ‘buy low, sell high’ art dealer in the early 20th century; his clients included Leo and Gertrude Stein. The radical politics of 19th century Paris was the engine for a great deal of ‘modern’ art.

    I say ‘radical,’ but not necessarily ‘liberal’ or ‘left.’ Modernists tend to be either far left, or far right, radicals; political extremism seems to be the rule.

    When criminals get more loot than they know what to do with, they have to put it somewhere: one of those places is art. Here’s where capitalism and crime meet: both involve large concentrations of capital—this concentration of capital is the sort of thing which drives high-powered, world-changing investment. This is not a knock against capitalism or the market, and sometimes it’s hard to say whether capitalism is great because of its ability to assimilate criminal capital, or not, but this is what happens.

    Criminals and capitalist speculators love to gamble and I believe what they do is gamble politically: and I think a lot of Modernists were betting on the Nazis to win in the 1930s. They bet badly, of course, in more ways than one, and a lot of revisionism happened in the 1940s and 1950s, but sometimes the chips are put on the Left: think of the radicalism that was stirred up during the Paris Commune in 1871, an experiment praised by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Mao; as you know Clemenceau was part of that Paris Commune radicalism, he was ‘pure Zola,’ and then he became a ‘total war’ WWI advocate as prime minister of France. There are spirits who know no impartiality, who always ‘take a side’ and the politics finally makes no difference, the ‘side’ ultimately makes no difference to them. This is that gambling instinct of the criminal and the speculative capitalist, and most modern artists gambled on the zeitgeist, that was what they were doing more than anything, and ‘good art’ and ‘morality’ and ‘instructing the people’ was no part of their beliefs or their plan.

    If you read carefully the whole history of modern art, you find these extremist political threads everywhere. (The New Critic/Fugitive reactionary manifesto of Old South ideals “I’ll Take My Stand” 1930, Eliot’s anti-semitism lecture at U. VA in 1934, Pound’s politics, the architect Philip Johnson’s nazi sympathies in the 30s, etc and that’s just ‘on the Right’) The whole issue of art theory, whether we’re talking about free verse or abstract art, is completey overshadowed by political and rather mundane (yet ultimately fascinating) real-world concerns.

    Tom

    • Marcus Bales said,

      July 4, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      Thomasbrady said: “… that comment above was a quote from Newsweek; those aren’t my words.”

      I took it that you were quoting them favorably, and that you agreed. I’m sorry if I misunderstood.

      Thomasbrady said: “… The whole issue of art theory, whether we’re talking about free verse or abstract art, is completey overshadowed by political and rather mundane (yet ultimately fascinating) real-world concerns.”

      Here, again, it appears that you do indeed hold the view you quoted from Newsweek, though – and, again, it poses serious questions for the viability of your goal of an academy that is concerned with the works of the dead, and an art market that is concerned with the works of the living.

      Once you say that the job of the artist is to find his or her commercial market, instead of to pursue his or her artistic vision, whatever it may be, you must hold an art-as-commodity view. When you start there for the artist, what is the role of the academy in such a world? Once the art finds a commercial market, what is there left to say about it? There are not crowds of academics battening onto how this or that ball bearing company figured out how to get another fraction of one percent of its bearings another fraction of one percent round for the perfectly good reason that, once you’ve sold the bearings, you’ve got your reward and care nothing for the opinion of any academic who may come along. Once you commodify art you have eliminated the reason for there to be critics or academics judging it. The only judgment that can possibly count is the judgment of the market.

      So, to the extent that that prevails, the critics and academics will simply sell their soi disant evaluative services. There’ll be a market for people who can certify that this art is really art and is worth the money, and who will develop a system of rewards to ensure that the art is acclaimed. Golly, that sounds very much like what is happening now!

      The problem with your idea of separating the market from the academy is that I don’t see how it can be done. What you inevitably get, it seems to me, is what we’ve got: Hallmark on the one hand, and Jorie Graham on the other, each more concerned with making money than with any quality of art.

  7. July 3, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    This is an interesting topic. You can’t really make anything like an exact comparison between poetry and painting and how they function in the market. With painters you have a product–a painting, that can be easily commodified and auctioned off. As a result, the influx of big-time Capitalist money just completely dwarfs anything that would ever get thrown at poetry. Investors who with at best minimal interest in art still might decide that paintings are a better long-term investment than something unpredictable like oil futures.

    The kind of market based utopia that I think T. Brady would envision is just not remotely like the kind of market being described here in the art world. The poetry free market, I gather, would be one where the poets who are recognized as “best” are recognized as such based upon selling the most books to the most readers, rather than on being selected by insider committees of friends you made in Grad School or at some summer conference.

    That’s not the same thing as the “free market” in painting, where a small coterie of critics or gallery owners decide who is important (perhaps in a manner not much different than how the poetry insiders chose their favorites) and then influence investors to start throwing wild sums of money at splotches of red or blue tossed across a canvass. There was an interesting case a year or two back over the authenticity of some Jackson Pollack sketches. Determining whether or not they were really Pollack’s own work was a vital question, with tens of millions of dollars at stake. If the experts decided they were produced by Pollack’s own whiskey besotted hand, they were worth perhaps as much as 45 million dollars. If the experts determined they were not, they were merely a bunch of abstract doodles that you would be lucky to unload at a yard sale. I never did find out how that turned out.

    There’s no analogy for poetry. As an act of corporate charity, the pharmaceutical industry poetry fund can toss a few bones out to poets with the right connections, but that’s so the poets can publish books–mass produced artifacts, that by definition can only become rare and unique sometime in the distant future, when only one or two copies remain in circulation. A painting, though, is a one-shot deal, an artifact–each one rare and precious to the collector who has been convinced it is, indeed, rare and precious.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    July 4, 2010 at 11:02 am

    PAINTING TRIES TO IMITATE WRITING

    Every golden day
    Falls into the slot of night.
    Put all the expensive paintings away
    In glass locked up tight.
    Look! The pen and the page made love.
    In the inky scrawl I see the raven calling to the dove.

  9. thomasbrady said,

    July 4, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I’ll make this reply to both Marcus and Briggs because we’re all missing something crucial here: the universal pedagogical element. Yes, Briggs, poetry and painting are similar because when John Dewey writes aesthetic philosophy which supports abstract painting while at the same time he is personally invested in abstract painting (as he was, all very quietly, of course) this is the very same thing as Jorie Graham clandestinely giving her boyfriend a poetry prize in a public contest. The ‘human behavior’ element is more important that what happens to be a commodity or not.

    And I would say it’s very easy for an academy and a market to exist side by side; films make money (and some lose money) and films are certainly more of a market phenomenon than poetry, and yet film critics routinely pan films which are very expensive to make and feature well-connected ‘stars.’ I don’t see why appealing to mass audiences requires that an art have no corresponding critical rigor. What finally matters is the elevation of a nation’s people in terms of refined pleasure-seeking and intelligent judgment, and this is what we should always have one eye on. Hallmark and Jorie Graham are both default results when a nation’s people are ignored in favor of insane pedantry on one hand and bland market sanity on the other. The more insanely pedantic the academy becomes, the more sanely bland the market will be. We elect presidents, buy soda pop and spend millions on a painting on the same principle: name recognition, which is the bland sanity of a dog who hears its name—and responds.

    Since bland sanity is really not such a bad thing, and is too ubiquitous to ever suppress, pedantry defined by an anti-market bias will always be presumptuous and stupid; and further, the pretentious nature of its anti-market bias will only result in making the market even more sanely bland in response; this is why my pedagogical fury is spent on attacking the pedantry of the academy and especially the pedantry of the modernist academy; it is the best target, for it is not only stupid, but it contains a relatively small number of people.

    Tom

  10. July 4, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    TB–

    Yeah, I didn’t say anything to indicate that I don’t think poetry and painting are dissimilar in the manner you describe in your Dewey example. The kind of self-interested critical sophistry used to establish value is obviously the same, with some overlap. In fact, I acknowledged that in my post, minus the specific example of Dewey. Bravo. As per usual, you are the most erudite on the board.

    Marcus’ “successful ball bearing” example is kind of interesting, though any commercial success involving “ball bearings” is certainly going to be the subject of study in Engineering Colleges. A pretty high percentage of “breakthroughs in ball bearings” come straight out of the academic world. That is the proper role of the “Academy,” and why land-grant institutions were originally founded–to provide a theoretical realm to study and train people in the best cutting edge techniques in engineering, design, agriculture and so on. I have a buddy who is a production manager for a small start up that is developing a new, more environmentally sustainable type of fabricated wood. He’s the only one at his work place who is not an academic, and they regularly rent lab time at Cornell, as do countless other private industry ventures. I used to work in the Dairy Industry–the connection between the academic research world and my day to day life as a breeding technician and semen salesman was constant, and was underwritten by government policies, both state and federal.

    But the differences between the academy related to agriculture and engineering and the academy related to poetry or painting is substantial, because there’s no remotely objective method for establishing “success” in arts, other than marshaling opinion. If your ball bearings don’t improve function 1%, but in fact create structural flaws, you fail–you lose your money. Actually, it would be unlikely you could get to the point of investing money, you would struggle to get any funding from the investment market if you did not have very well detailed, well sourced academic-based arguments for why you expect your particular ball bearings to work, in addition to a well documented set of trials–quite likely conducted in an academic setting.

    In poetry you can be a complete hack (according to Marcus Bales, Thomas Brady, or even Briggs Seekins) but if the right group of more well-connected people love your work, you will get the right prizes and the choice academic positions. There seems to be a dichotomy presented here somewhere in which people think “well, poetry has turned its back on the free market to hide in the academy, while the honest world of every-day products operates purely in the free market.” But that’s not really true. The academy is intimately related there, too. But there is a clear standard–something has to actually “work.” There is no such standard in art–only opinions. If you are designing ball-bearings and you want people to believe in you, you have to actually do the physics, the testing–all those hours of rigorous intellectual slogging. You’ve obviously got to sell it to investors, but if it is a good product, the potential financial benefits will be strong enough so you can hire a completely different person who is an expert at selling.

    No poet has such a luxury. She has to be her own salesman, and work at recruiting a network of people who will also sell her–which in turn will mean selling for them. In the absence of verifiable, objective standards for what works, this is the only way anybody can be “successful” as a poet. That’s how the “market for poetry” functions, paltry as it might be. It is essentially a multi-level sales scheme, in other words, a pyramid. The ubiquitous Seth Abramson, for example, is not really on the wrong track in terms of chasing his dreams as a poet. Scarriet is pretty much the only entertaining poetry forum I know of, but in terms of creating “market share” I don’t know how “successful” it is. Pretty successful, I guess, for being so hostile and argumentative towards the more well-connected world. It doesn’t smell of Amway, which is why I like to read it, despite some of the more tedious nit-picking arguments that bubble up.

    An important note–when I talk about a given breakthrough in engineering or agriculture “objectively working,” it is important to note that the academic and “free market” ruled by capitalist investors rarely ask whether or not the break through “works” from the point of view of social or environmental impact. Those kind of questions are conveniently dismissed as “externalities”–for even in the hard-headed world of practical commerce, sophistry protects the rich and their investments (I personally have no problem with being “radical”–whatever the aesthetic risks it might raise).

    • Marcus Bales said,

      July 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm

      Thomasbrady said: “I’ll make this reply to both Marcus and Briggs because we’re all missing something crucial here: the universal pedagogical element.”

      The only universals I know of in pedagogy are these: The teacher must start where the student is, and the student must admit there is something to learn from that teacher. Without both of those at the same time, there is no pedagogy, only coercion and rebellion.

      Thomasbrady said: “Yes, Briggs, poetry and painting are similar because when John Dewey writes aesthetic philosophy which supports abstract painting while at the same time he is personally invested in abstract painting (as he was, all very quietly, of course) this is the very same thing as Jorie Graham clandestinely giving her boyfriend a poetry prize in a public contest.”

      Not the very same thing. If WS Merwin were quietly investing in oil stocks while decrying the damage oil companies are doing to the environment, that would be less like Graham’s, and more understandable. After all, one must make a living. But Graham’s prize-giving to her fiancé was out-and-out fraud, not merely hypocrisy.

      Thomasbrady said: “And I would say it’s very easy for an academy and a market to exist side by side; films make money (and some lose money) and films are certainly more of a market phenomenon than poetry, …”

      That movies are a market phenomenon is what allows for the critical and academic commentary to make money by commenting on the market phenomenon. Poetry is not a market phenomenon, and, thus, any critical machinery is necessarily going to become ‘the market’ at which poets direct their efforts. No one makes a movie to please a critic, because there is a real market for movies out there – one is rewarded for one’s efforts by the monetary success of the endeavor, not by good reviews, though no one is turning down good reviews, of course. But the reviews are tertiary to the movie-makers, and are an integral part of the marketing buzz for any movie. Reviewers and their critical academic cousins are irrelevant to the movie-maker’s endeavor.

      Thomasbrady said: “… I don’t see why appealing to mass audiences requires that an art have no corresponding critical rigor.”

      Probably the only way there can be critical rigor is when there is a commercial audience that pays only marginal attention to the critics. When the critics are the audience, or are substantially the audience, or even when they have significant influence over the market, then the art withers as it starts to try for critical instead of mass acclaim. This is not to say, however, that the artists pay no attention to the critics whatever when there is a commercial market. No doubt the mere existence of a critical intelligence with access to some distribution among the commercial audience keeps the artists a little more honest a little more of the time than if there were no such intelligence and distribution. But really, no one makes art for a commercial market with much more than a glancing regard for the opinions of the critics, commercial or academic.

      Thomasbrady said: “What finally matters is the elevation of a nation’s people in terms of refined pleasure-seeking and intelligent judgment, …”

      This is simply not going to happen in a wealthy and diverse nation. The audience for refinement and intelligence is small, was always small, and will always be small. Most people just don’t want to work that hard for their entertainment, and they simply will not. They enjoy what is easy to enjoy, and they take their enjoyment without regard for what they regard, sometimes rightfully, as the prissy refinements and misguided intelligences of the educated taste.

      Thomasbrady said: “… Since bland sanity is really not such a bad thing, and is too ubiquitous to ever suppress, pedantry defined by an anti-market bias will always be presumptuous and stupid; and further, the pretentious nature of its anti-market bias will only result in making the market even more sanely bland in response; this is why my pedagogical fury is spent on attacking the pedantry of the academy and especially the pedantry of the modernist academy; it is the best target, for it is not only stupid, but it contains a relatively small number of people.”

      Maybe so, but while pedantry is perhaps always stupid in the sense you mean here, the educated tastes and refined sensibilities still not only exist but flourish in the academy and its cultural penumbra. If you’re going to find an audience for refinement and intelligence, that’s where you’re going to find it. This is not to say that there is no refinement and intelligence outside the academy, but to say that the penumbra of the academy is wide and diffuse. The audience you say you seek for artists is in the academy and its penumbra, though, ineluctably and inevitably, and, of course, that’s why you spend so much time and energy poking those folks: they’re the only ones who would possibly care about a critique of their attitudes and behaviors. They are the audience for taste and refinement, even when they are themselves being criticized for having distorted taste and refinement.

      Briggs Seekins said, “Marcus’ “successful ball bearing” example is kind of interesting, though any commercial success involving “ball bearings” is certainly going to be the subject of study in Engineering Colleges. A pretty high percentage of “breakthroughs in ball bearings” come straight out of the academic world. That is the proper role of the “Academy,” and why land-grant institutions were originally founded–to provide a theoretical realm to study and train people in the best cutting edge techniques in engineering, design, agriculture and so on.”

      Just so. My point, though, was that there isn’t an independent critical research in the academy into the quality of ball bearings qua ball bearings just because they find ball bearings interesting. They get hired to look into how to make better ball bearings, and what constitutes ‘better’ is defined or them outside their own academic interests. I was contrasting just the sort of academic interest you’re talking about with the kind of academic interest pointed at the arts in general, and poetry in particular: in the latter the academy has taken it upon itself to define what constitutes ‘better’, and that has worked to the detriment of the arts.

      Briggs Seekins said, “… But the differences between the academy related to agriculture and engineering and the academy related to poetry or painting is substantial, because there’s no remotely objective method for establishing “success” in arts, other than marshaling opinion.”

      I wish I’d said it as well.

      Briggs Seekins said, “… In the absence of verifiable, objective standards for what works, this is the only way anybody can be “successful” as a poet. That’s how the “market for poetry” functions, paltry as it might be. It is essentially a multi-level sales scheme, in other words, a pyramid.”

      Or even in the absence of subjective but well-articulated standards. That’s why, in part, I continue to suggest that poetry is language in meter – because when a writer is compelled to write in meter in order to be regarded as writing poetry (whether the work is well-done or ill-done) there are at least well-articulated, if subjective, standards for a level of skill with language that free verse, flarf, and the rest simply do not provide. That absence of some level of perceptible skill by relatively untrained audiences has been the will-o-the-wisp that has tempted the arts into the swamps of lack of direction from an earned audience, and mired it down in the fatuous self-congratulation of being determinedly lost.

      • thomasbrady said,

        July 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm

        Marcus,

        Good points on the film industry and pedagogy. The bottom line should always be ‘do people like it?’ and this doesn’t mean you also can’t have criticism or an academy.

        I would just disagree in one small place: I don’t think one can say with self-assurance that the ‘cultured’ are automatically the most ‘intelligent.’ To reject the prissy and empty refinements of the cultured takes an ‘intelligence’ which those who pride themselves on their intelligence lack, in their endeavor to set themselves apart from those they consider less intelligent by wrapping themselves ostentatiously in prissy and empty refinements.

        We all are hopelessly proud in this respect; our likes are always opposed in our minds (even without realizing it) by what we don’t like, or what, in our minds, we are supposed to not like. We all find our niches in a ‘for and against’ manner, even if the ‘against’ is not always visible. The country & western market is increased, not diminished, by its opposition to the rock and the classical markets. It is precisely the ‘not liking classical music’ which helps the fan of rock or country like their music. Meanwhile the classical music fan prefers Glenn Gould’s Bach over Arthur Loesser’s Bach. This choice-making is universal and the choice-making is ultimately more important, psychologically, than what we choose. I have no doubt that most people who approve of free-verse never read verse (though they might not admit this) because of this phenomenon, which does not partake of intelligence, but rather, perversity. Of course, out of pride, the art lover or the music fan will occasionally protest, ‘oh no, I have wide interests.’ But more often than not, they are lying.

        Perhaps I am being too harsh in calling this phenomenon ‘perversity’ since it is so universal and drives a great deal of intellectual interest. Since poetry has become a purely academic phenomenon where ‘experts’ who award ‘prizes’ determine a poet’s worth, this divisive and prideful choice-making phenomenon I am describing has been taken out of the people’s hands—thus crippling poetry’s ability for a messy and grumbly popularity.

        Tom

  11. thomasbrady said,

    July 5, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Briggs,

    This is one of the best explanations of foetry I’ve seen:

    If you are designing ball-bearings and you want people to believe in you, you have to actually do the physics, the testing–all those hours of rigorous intellectual slogging. You’ve obviously got to sell it to investors, but if it is a good product, the potential financial benefits will be strong enough so you can hire a completely different person who is an expert at selling.

    No poet has such a luxury. She has to be her own salesman, and work at recruiting a network of people who will also sell her–which in turn will mean selling for them. In the absence of verifiable, objective standards for what works, this is the only way anybody can be “successful” as a poet.

    The irony Mr. Seekins has highlighted is that poetry is even more of a selling game than the selling game (business) itself, since there’s no ‘ball-bearings-that-work-better’ to sell. Poetry, unlike a ball-bearing, isn’t supposed to work. Art that works? How gauche!

    Poetry is ‘selling’ and nothing more. This is so bizarre that most simply cannot believe it: why would/how could there be any ‘selling’ of what doesn’t exist, of what no one wants/needs? Precisely. All the more reason for the selling of poetry to be so intense—because it is nothing else.

    I don’t mean poetry is a rhetoric which argues for itself—it has always been that, to some degree; hell, a perfectly round ball-bearing argues for itself; the ugly truth here is much worse: as Seekins says, a ball-bearing is important enough to require an expert salesman; a poem is not important enough to require an expert salesman, and therefore the poet must be a salesman by default, since a poem ‘sells itself’ even less than a nicely made ball-bearing. Further, the whole process becomes deeply incestuous for the poet—since the action is not ball-bearing/salesman/buyer so much as poets selling themselves to poets selling themselves to poets and selling themselves ad infinitum.

    And Seekins is right about a crucial difference between poetry and painting, which we see here: http://www.technology.am/the-30-most-expensive-paintings-of-all-time-141346.html

    Tom

  12. David said,

    December 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Makes me think of what has happened to Catholic architecture since the 1970s …

    http://twilightoftheidols21.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/thompson.png

    http://twilightoftheidols21.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/gore.jpg

  13. David said,

    December 25, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Wow, that church in Savanna is truly divine. Alas, such beauty is quite rare these days, as “cement-mixer” architecture is the norm for modern cathedrals.

  14. tom said,

    December 26, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Great little piece about abstract art architecture and state politics- not to mention the collusions of abstract expressionism: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html

    More interesting though is this stuff in the comments – your ‘vision’ of the separation of art into a total market reign (for living artists) vs the academy (servicing the dead) and ‘bland sanity’ vs ‘anti-market bias’ ie “art”.

    I wonder what a contemporary example of “bland sanity” is in poetry? Is it the new-yorker style poem, and is also the the faux sociology of the tao lin style? And what of the anti-market bias “art” that is a total market for the dead academy, and have you written about this elsewhere here, and could you direct me there, and what about bob?

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm

      Ahh, more dirt. Yea, another vindication of what Scarriet has been saying. The sounds totally legit to me; I was always curious, for instance, how many artists and poets and intellectuals worked for the OSS and other WW II quasi-military organizations: W.H. Auden (a good friend of Stephen Spender, who ran the CIA-backed “Encounter” magazine) worked for WW II’s Strategic Bombing Survey, which justified the horrific allied bombing—talk about destruction of great European architecture! John Kenneth Galbraith, the establishment/liberal economist was prominent member of the Bombing Survey. Auden is also rumored to have had connections to the Kim Philby’s Soviet spy ring, that interestingly enough, came out of the highest art/intellectual circles of Britain—Cambridge Apostles, Aristotelian Society, with connections to Bloomsbury, Oxford & Cambridge Universities (where all the Fugitive/New Critics studied as Rhodes Scholars,as well as Paul Engle, who had U.S. State Dept connections through his brother, and his International Writing Program at Iowa was always thought to be CIA.) It was T.S. Eliot (associate of Pound) who hand-picked Auden, and Eliot’s mentor Betrand Russell (as well as Language Poetry theorists) was twice president of the Aristotelian Society and Auden chose Ashbery and the New Critics pushed the greatness of “The Red Wheel Barrow” in the prominent 30s,40s, 50s textbook “Understanding Poetry” as an ‘abstract art’ poem, and of course the New York School, Ashbery, O’Hara were deeply into the Rockefeller/Gugenheim Modern Art game. As the article correctly points out, the CIA did not invent modern art, but they ran with it and ‘long leash’ is a perfect description. People tend to think that writing and art don’t get caught up in this kind of ‘dirty’ stuff, but i know from studying poe that it does. For many modern artists, It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. The actual ‘art’ can be less important than hidden, strategic underpinnings…Scarriet has written about this lot in terms of the Fugitives, New Critics, Modernists, the right-wing fascism before the war that reversed itself in some circles after the war…it’s all very complex, but scary and fascinating…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Apostles

  15. tom said,

    December 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Yikes, indeed. Reading through the Cambridge Apostles entry, I see that Russell’s other friend (and also language poetry theorist) Wittgenstein was a (apparently infrequent) member. So and several were apparently Soviet spies, and now I’m reading this entry for The Jew of Linz, a book I missed and seems probably a bit daffy in many factual respects, but which I now want to read, and this:

    “No-ownership theory of mind

    Other sections of the book deal with Cornish’s theories about what he claims are the common roots of Wittgenstein’s and Hitler’s philosophies in mysticism, magic, and the “no-ownership” theory of mind. Cornish sees this as Wittgenstein’s generalisation of Schopenhauer’s account of the Unity of the Will, in which despite appearances, there is only a single Will acting through the bodies of all creatures. This doctrine, generalized to other mental faculties such as thinking, is presented in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Essays”. The doctrine, writes Cornish, was also held by the Oxford philosopher R. G. Collingwood who was one of Wittgenstein’s electors to his Cambridge chair. Cornish tries to tie this to Wittgenstein’s arguments against the idea of “mental privacy” and in conclusion says “I have attempted to locate the source of the Holocaust in a perversion of early Aryan religious doctrines about the ultimate nature of man”. Cornish also suggests that Hitler’s oratorical powers in addressing the group mind of crowds and Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and denial of mental privacy, are the practical and theoretical consequences of this doctrine.”

    That seems rather topical, no?

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 27, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      This ‘group-think’ Will which makes us all puppets is very creepy; it doesn’t deny the holocaust, but does something even more insidious—justifies it, even redeems it, on a sort of grand ‘religious’ scale…

      Investigating the Cambridge Apostles could keep a thousand doctoral students going for a thousand years…here’s all that a conspiracy theorist could ever want…the U.K. ran an empire, and as that empire wound down, its brain power taught the CIA and the U.S. to keep it going, as it were, as the 20th century progressed…

      I see Roger Fry on the list, the influential art critic who first gained respect as an expert on the Old Masters and then threw his ‘expertise’ behind Modern art…

      Almost all of the Apostles were children of high officials running the Empire, in India, or someplace…big Bloomsbury connection, of course, from which Modernism was launched…so much of the New Age crap which infected America came out of Bloomsbury, first called “The Midnight Society” when it was founded by Lytton Strachey…William James at Harvard was a strand, as well…James, of course, taught Getrude Stein automatic writing at Harvard…

      “Politics” as we know it in America is not really at play here…Left or Right was just a matter of whim, or ‘throwing people off the scent’ with these people…the Empire was the means and ‘free-thinking’ (in terms of life-style more than anything else) was the goal…

      The Aristotelian Society also overlaps with the Cambridge Apostles, lots of British intelligence, Bloomsbury, Bertrand Russell, etc and president of that organization in the 1950s,, J.L. Austin, language philosopher (MI6 during WW II) mentored Stanley Cavell, who in turn taught Charles Bernstein (Harvard) of the Language Poetry school. Also president of the Aristotelian Society after Austin was Sir Karl Popper, the famous Plato hater.

  16. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    We see the same spirit of destruction in the 20th century Catholic Church, not only in architecture, but at the heart of the Faith, in the displacement of the classical Roman liturgy (the Tridentine Mass) by that modernist fabrication known as the Novus Ordo Missae. The cast of characters is different, but the motivation — the diabolical contempt for the Beautiful, the Good, and the True — is all too similar.

  17. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    No sarcasm intended. The contempt that drove the official banishment of the Old Mass (happily reversed by the current Pope) is, in my view, diabolical.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 27, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      Here’s one of the Cambridge Apostles speaking of the organization a little on the Dick Cavett show in 1980; Jonathan Miller, who in 2010 protested the pope’s visit to the U.K.

      • David said,

        December 27, 2011 at 7:28 pm

        Two minutes is about all I needed to understand that man’s agenda. No surprise that he hates the Pope. He has no shortage of friends and accomplices within the Catholic Church these days.

      • Nooch said,

        December 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm

        One might find this appalling
        And Miller to be an homme noir
        But one might find it appealing
        If an Anglophile comme moi.

        I envy the spy for his coolness—
        For his calmness in outward appearance.
        (Quite admirable to one, such as myself,
        Who lost his security clearance).

        But life goes on, of that have no fear.
        (Smiley-faced emoticon inserted here)

  18. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    “The nurturing of a homosexual/pedophile network in the Catholic Church in modern times, which parallels similar networks in government, business and education circles, may, some suggest, date back to the late 1920s and early 30s when the ‘Cambridge Apostles’, that elite clique of homosexual Marxists under the direction of Anthony Blunt (and including such notorious spies as Kim Philby), determined to seize control of the major institutions, especially the churches, newspapers, cinema and radio (and, later, television), universities, museums and government cultural agencies.

    “If this strikes the reader as difficult to believe, all I can plead is that there is a tremendous amount of information that supports the theory. The late John Costello’s masterful biography of Anthony Blunt, Mask of Treachery (William and Morrow, Co., 1988) provides copious documentation on how Blunt placed his friends, both Marxists and homosexuals, in some of the most important cultural agencies in the western world, and even gloated how many were totally unqualified for their positions. In addition, there is the Congressional testimony of former Communists in the United States, such as Manning Johnson and Bella Dodd, who told how they encouraged more than a thousand communists or fellow travelers to enter Catholic seminaries in the 1930s. Bella Dodd tesified: ‘In the 1930s, we put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within,’ and the chief tactic devised, once these men came to power, was to label the Church ‘of the past’ as oppressive, authoritarian, full of prejudices, arrogant and closed to the world.'”

    ~ Paul Likoudis, Amchurch Comes Out

  19. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    … seize control of the major institutions, especially the churches, newspapers, cinema and radio (and, later, television), universities, museums and government cultural agencies.

    This is more than a conspiracy theory. The facts are before our eyes. Antisemitism is a red herring. The power of “jewry” is absolutely nil compared to the power of the Lavender Mafia.

    • tom said,

      December 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm

      You’re an idiot.

      • David said,

        December 27, 2011 at 8:24 pm

        It’s really a shame, Tom (I assume that you’re not Tom Brady), that you’re able to connect the dots until we get to the ultimate taboo topic. Then the name calling begins. I know better than to express my point of view on “Nothing to say and saying it” … although if there is traffic between these blogs, I’ll probably be banned from there now anyway.

        • David said,

          December 27, 2011 at 8:26 pm

          The question now is whether Tom Brady is embarrassed to have me here. My hopeful hunch is that a wide range of opinions is allowed at Scarriet.

          • thomasbrady said,

            December 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

            Scarriet allows all points of view.

            Fear not, David.

            I probably have the most problem with those who are predictable and boring…

            I also have a hunch that ‘conspiracy’ is the normal way of doing business among the rich and powerful. There’s nothing which irritates me more than one of those close-minded types who automatically opposes anything that smells of ‘conspiracy.’ This is not to say I subscribe to every theory that comes down the pike, but at least I’ll listen. Also, I try and sympathize with the ‘conspirators,’ and put myself in their shoes. Everything exists, and everything has a reason for existing, but of course that doesn’t mean we still can’t make judgements pro or con…

            I also realize that we can’t know everything, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and speculate and see where it leads…

            Scarriet will never ban someone for their ideas…

            Brady (not ‘Tom’)

            • tom said,

              December 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm

              Well I suppose since you’re putting my name in scare quotes I should leave.

  20. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    That’s nice.

  21. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Think what you will of me, I couldn’t care less. I know what I see.

    • tom said,

      December 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm

      I know what you’re inferring, which is what is always inferred in one way or another by neo-liberals AND religious fanatics when people try to openly trace the history of cultural and political power.

      This is why senile postmodernism isn’t apocalypsing, and why I have to spend my days talking to sock puppets like you.

      • David said,

        December 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm

        What am I “inferring”? I’m expressing my point of view openly. I understand that it is a hideous point of view to many people.

        You spend your days talking to sock puppets like me? Really?

        Are “tom” and “Tom Brady” the same person? I’m hoping not. I’m the same shit-stirring “David”. I’m just not logged into WordPress at the moment.

  22. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Tom, if you think that I’m inferring something about you personally, I’m most certainly not. It’s a culturally taboo topic. That’s all that I’m saying. Period.

    “Idiot”. “Sock puppet”. Like I said, it’s a shame that the discussion must deteriorate so.

    • tom said,

      December 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm

      It seemed to me you were inferring that the ‘conspiracy theories’ (many discussed here actually facts) were based in some kind of bigotry – against jews catholics gays etc. Do forgive me if I’ve misread your tone.

      • David said,

        December 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm

        Heavens, no. That’s not what I meant at all. That’s a relief. Maybe we’re on the same page after all. :-)

        • David said,

          December 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm

          I thought that I was being written off as an anti-gay bigot. I’m glad that we’ve cleared up these misunderstandings. It’s all good.

  23. David said,

    December 27, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    You are of course free to disagree with me and say that my arguments are unsound. But why call me names? Why does civility have to go out the window? To understand me a little better, you might try reading this:

    http://anointedruins.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/my-alexandria/

    The above was written several months ago. More recently, my reading of Doty has only heightened my cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, his essay “Insatiable” in Granta magazine disgusted me. On the other hand, I’m thoroughly enjoying his book The Art of Description. I think that Doty is a brilliant teacher. Derogatory terms like “idiot” and “sock puppet” directed toward me might be understandable responses to my promotion of certain conspiracy theories, but they don’t do justice to the complexity of my views.

    • tom said,

      December 27, 2011 at 9:50 pm

      My, it must be comforting to have such a black and white view of things and people. Myself, I’m a catholic half-jew and an atheist. A bit odd I know, or perhaps it’s a growing fad? You know how ideas can spread very fast these days…The last church I attended, a few years ago, had a gay pastor. I suppose I am in love with the beauty of the church, the singing, the ritual. One of my ex-lovers, who was brought up as an orthodox jew, said he knew many orthodox jews in Israel who were atheists but still observed all of the rituals.

      About Doty’s poetry I know very little. Not sure I care when there are so many other things I find more intriguing.

      • David said,

        December 27, 2011 at 10:21 pm

        Where did you get the idea that I have “such a black and white view of things and people”? Because I’m a Catholic who actually gives an assent of faith to the teachings of the Catholic Church? Does that make me a bigot in your eyes? If so, who has a “black and white” view of people?

  24. thomasbrady said,

    December 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    If what that article says is true…I wonder if the CIA, which won the Cold War against the Soviet Union by supporting modern art—did so ‘just to win’ or did so from a deep moral belief in ‘freedom,’ and if they did, where is the ‘freedom’ in abstract art? Freedom from what?

    It is interesting to note that the Japanese, while they were taking over Asia in the first half of the 20th century, were supported by the U.S. and Britain, and despite the fact that Japan colonized Korea, China, etc, they were embracing Western modern/abstract art and teaching it to Korea, etc In other words, Modern art and Abstract art were not always the art of choice for the ‘good guys.’

    I really doubt that Abstract art, for instance, is necessarily the art of ‘freedom’ and virtue, in spite of the fact that it may have been used as a tool against the bad guys, Hitler and Stalin…

    This raises a question: can we ever assign real public value to art, and if so, based on what criteria?

    Sexual morality as a public policy, it seems to me, has to decide where and how to draw the line between public and private. I would think the Catholic church opposes homosexuality for the same reason it opposes sex before marriage…a homosexual, identified by definition of the word as a sexual being, automatically is a ‘sex outside of marriage’ sexual person. So the church’s position against homosexuality is merely an extension of its sexual morality policy in general…and not bigotry against gays. If it’s private, no one has to know about it, if it’s public, then a moral judgement has to be made…since ‘homosexual’ is a public definition, the Church is forced to make the judgement it does…. it doesn’t mean a Catholic has to hate homosexuals…laws can co-exist with good will, it seems to me…I’m just speaking in terms of ‘the rules’ here, and nothing else…I myself practice no religion, but it seems there’s a lot of unnecessary bad feelings involved in many people’s minds…if I were a Catholic and felt terrible feelings of guilt because I was in an adulterous relationship, I wouldn’t blame the Catholic Church for my sufferings…now if I met a hypocritical priest, that would give me pause, but ‘rules is rules…’ Anyway, that’s how I see it…the poet Shelley was detested by T.S. Eliot, because Shelley was opposed to marriage, which he blamed on religion; Shelley wrote that love shouldn’t be caged…I don’t agree with Shelley, but I don’t hate him for his views…

    • David said,

      December 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm

      …if I were a Catholic and felt terrible feelings of guilt because I was in an adulterous relationship, I wouldn’t blame the Catholic Church for my sufferings

      That is the rational response. I have feelings of guilt because I find the Church’s position on birth control difficult to live out in practice, but I refuse to blame the Church for my guilt. The irrational response is to blame the Church for one’s guilt. The rationalistic response — the Modernist response — is to remain Catholic while avoiding guilt by campaigning against the “intolerant” Pope and undermining his authority. The latter response has become widespread within the Church thanks to Bella Dodd’s seminarian moles.

      P.S. Bella Dodd eventually repented of her deeds and was received into the Catholic Church.

      • thomasbrady said,

        December 28, 2011 at 1:36 pm

        David,

        It must be troubling to witness all this protest within the Church. I think one should be able to see that there’s a need for rules in the world, a need for a strict, moral (yet beautiful) institution in the world like the Catholic Church, but it’s not for everybody, it’s never going to be perfect, and even ‘reformers’ should realize they do more good by going elsewhere than by destroying the very principles of the institution they cannot tolerate. It’s one thing to be vigilant against crime, it’s another to be so ‘reformist’ that you are destroying the essence of what something is. If I’m shopping around (to put it crudely) for guidance, for morality, for a church, for spirituality, I want to have a wide array of choices, and one of those should be something like the Catholic Church which is as ‘high church’ as it is possible to be. Does modernity have to water down everything? It seems to me this is just common sense. And I think one can be ‘high church’ and also have a lot of common sense; in fact the more ‘high church’ you are going to be, the more common sense you need.

        Bella Dodd…what a terrific story. Not going to be a Hollywood movie any time soon, though…

        Tom

  25. July 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up!
    I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back in the future. Many thanks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118 other followers

%d bloggers like this: