Vanessa Place: Art School Cool Forever?

Which of the following four individuals are racist, everything else being equal:

1). A white man who reviles black men and sleeps with black women.

2). A black man who reviles white men and sleeps with white women.

3). A white lesbian who writes on Facebook that we need to carefully listen to people of color and not let our white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

4). A black lesbian who writes on Facebook that white people need to listen carefully to people of color and not let their white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

The answer is obvious.  You know the answer, don’t you?

The issue of race is complicated—but not.

Poetry is complicated—until a good poet comes along.

The bad is complicated.

The good is not complicated.

Academics have been talking a lot about race lately—and making it sound extremely complicated—even as they try to make it sound extremely simple: white privilege.

A couple of conceptualist poets—Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place—used racist material for “art” and the “art” remained stubbornly invisible in the Conceptualist manner, leaving the Conceptualist Poets themselves looking a bit—oops!—racist.

Since every revolution has its purists, looking “a bit” racist can get you in a heap of trouble, and now Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith, once museum-curator-poet cool, are verging on not being cool.

Conceptualism messed with Ferguson and Gone With The Wind and learned the lesson of the dyer’s hand: like Lady Macbeth, Vanessa Place wishes her hand clean again.

Avant-garde poets sympathetic to Conceptualism, like Ron Silliman, have suddenly been reduced to apologetic whimpering re: the once proud 20th century poetry avant-garde which he and his friends represent (male and white…shhhh).

We at Scarriet have been Silliman’s gentle scold and conscience for quite some time.

Now it’s official:

Quietism 1 Conceptualism 0.

Remember Rita Dove versus Marjorie Perloff?  That seems like a minor dust-up in comparison to what’s occurring now. Or was it? Perhaps it is only possible for the scandalous and the wrong to exist this minute?

The cool-kids-trying-to-be-cool-again are fighting back, of course.

Vanessa Place, who was thrown off a committee because of her insensitivity to racism, may be a beloved martyr tomorrow: who knows?

Her defenders will say: Her hand is not clean, but no one’s is.  Nothing is clean.

We said the complicated is bad, and the simple is good, so here’s the whole Place controversy as simply as we can put it:

Those attacking Place are anti-Racists.

Place is anti-Pro-Racist.

This is like the early stages of the French Revolution: in the ‘race atmosphere’ which exists now, everyone is potentially a saint or a sinner in the blink of an eye.

The possibilities are endless.

Listening to everyone—especially academic poets—discussing race is amazing: talk about twisting oneself in knots.  “Am I good, or am I being too patronizing?”  “Am I being too honest?” “Shall I speak up? And what shall I say?”

Some just want to talk about art. Art, the concept, is the only umbrella that protects. Conceptualism thinks art is a useless concept, which is why the conceptualists feel unprotected and uncomfortable now.

The wheel is turning.

In Silliman’s latest, “Je Sui Vanessa,” Silliman cracks from the pressure of watching his beloved avant-garde  peeps, Goldsmith and Place, become totally uncool.

Silliman equates those attacking Place with hate crime murderers.

When morals are questioned, discomfort results. When cool is questioned, all hell breaks loose.

This is one of those points in history where you feel yourself moving, even as you are standing still.










Kenneth Goldsmith: Not one concept in his head.

If you are really curious about beer, the expert will tell you there are only two kinds: ale and lager.

Likewise, there’s only two kinds of wine: red and white.

I can glance out my window right now and see the sunlight increasing as the clouds disperse, and then notice the artificial light over my desk steadily burning.

Neither the outside light nor the inside light are considered “art,” but what visual art does not take account of it?

We understand terms like the “art of beer” or the “art of wine,” even as we might say to ourselves, “Well, that’s not really art—maybe science…”

But the moment we tackle the “art of art,” we come up against that sort of learned confusion which may befuddle in a pleasant manner those seasoned and learned enough to enjoy such a thing, but which ultimately derails all true understanding.

The confusion is due largely to the great blurring between art and reality mentioned above: if the artificial light above my desk behaved more like the sun on a partly cloudy day, we might even call the constantly changing light emitted by the light bulb above my desk, “art,” just because of  the way the man-fashioned bulb above my desk cunningly copies nature’s changeable light.

This year’s Conceptualism hullabaloo, which happens to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show which brought modern art to America, is a debate forcing us to acknowledge what is nothing less than art’s most important idea since art began: imitation.

Both John Keats and Kenneth Goldsmith must confront this reality: Art is a pale representation of nature.

Goldsmith’s avant-garde solution is to focus entirely on “representation.”

Conceptualism, in Goldsmith’s case, or in the case of Warhol/Duchamp’s found objects, is a terrible misnomer.

Goldsmith and his Found Poetry takes Nature, or Reality and “finds” it as Poetry, and “find,” here, means purely represent.

We are free to ignore the actual work of Goldsmith’s, as many have pointed out, but this is not due to Conceptualism; it is because of its opposite: Representation.

Reality is art’s flesh, and until art lives, it is not art, but reality.  (How art lives is something we’ll get to in a moment.)

We err whenever we do not understand art as reality first, and art, second.

Plato offended (certain easily offended) artists with this practice: he saw art as reality first—what does art do within reality? was the most important question for Plato.

Found Poetry is an ineffective challenge to Plato, seeking to reverse Plato’s ‘look-at-art-as-reality’ admonition; superficially, Found Poetry is looking at reality as art, but the moment we look at reality as art, we look at art as reality-Plato’s strategy!

To look, as Plato does, at “art as reality,” is to see reality “showing through the art,” as it were; this “look” is the “harsh look of the cynical Critic,” who refuses to see the art on the artist’s terms.

This “look” is, in artistic terms, the methodical “look” which offends aesthetic passivity with its real-life action.

The “raw fact” of art, no matter how intricate, is not allowed to lie there passively; the active Platonist Critic places art in a context of reality—and does not allow it to remove itself into a pure, amoral, state where reality is walled off from the representation (the art).  Once “this wall” is allowed to go up, art is free to make rules for itself that have no connection to reality and to proclaim itself purely valid apart from reality, which, on a grand scale is similar to a person withdrawing from reality into a dream, or a wealthy person cutting themselves off from the everyday needs of others.

Art has moved in this direction, away from Plato, away from art as reality, and towards art as pure art, for over a hundred years, now.  This very movement is defined as Modernism by John Crowe Ransom, in his brilliant essay, “Poets Without Laurels.”   Impressionism in painting, Imagism in poetry, Abstract Painting, a poem like “Sea Surface Full of Clouds” by Wallace Stevens, these are all attempts, along with Found Poetry, to escape Plato and his Conceptualism and to enter into a world of attenuated representation, the sensuality of partial imitation, that is sensual imitation without mind, reason, or morals.  Modernism, for Ransom, not only moves in the direction of “pure art,” or “art for art’s sake,” but it is also a movement of science dividing itself into finer and finer partitions.

The beginner learns about the science of beer or wine, starting with ‘ale or lager,’ ‘white or red,’ but this beginner’s lesson contains all that the expert knows—when it comes to science.  As science gets down to the details of its field, the broader truths must be constantly kept in view, and this should be true of art, as well.

Visual art is concerned with these two: Color or line.

Writing?  Prose or poetry.

These divisions involve the science of art, which is much easier to understand than the art of art.

Plato can be scientific about art, even while morally condemning it, and one could argue it is the scientist in him that morally condemns it, while at the same time, examining it on a purely material level—which Plato did, even though Aristotle took it a little further; Aristotle broke most famously with Plato with his “catharsis” theory, telling the lie that we can “purge” our emotions by bathing in what triggers them.

Even Tom Wolfe got it wrong, then, with his withering critique of Modern Art when he called avant-garde painting the “painted word.” This, again, errs, in the way we have just illustrated: Modern art is not conceptualist; it is merely crudely (purely) representational.   Like Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” it is so obvious, everyone has missed it.   What we call “Conceptualist” is just crudely imitative.

How could so many have been so wrong regarding Conceptualism?

We can easily blame it on two things:

First, Modernism, a movement which is all about “moving ahead, about being self-consciously “modern” while forgetting the past.

And secondly, confusing art and science.

Science tells us there are but two kinds of beer: lager and ale.

Science, too, could also sound wiser by saying: beer as beer is more essential than the distinction between larger and ale.

Science, like criticism, can say anything, can be everywhere at once.

The poor artist, however, needs to imitate and make a certain kind of imitative sense to be effective, even if it is laying on pure color as an abstract artist.

Critics are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, not poets.   Unless we call Plato a poet (which he was, according to Shelley).

One of the results of the movement known as Modernism has been the elevation of prose poetry over its cousin, verse.

Verse, in Modernism’s eyes, is crudely denotative, rather than suggestive—the key to poetic prose.

Just as every discriminating artist is concerned with both line and color, every writer should create art that both denotes and suggests.

If we look at the matter scientifically, we will find that metrics can aid both denotation and suggestion, and the same goes with prose meaning.

Modernism, with its crippling -isms, needs to be done away with at last.

Drink all kinds of beer.

Don’t call Kenneth Goldsmith a “Conceptualist” ever again.



83. NY Times Sunday Book Review presents Story Coaster, a cute cartoon drawing of a standard fiction—“climax, falling action”—analysis depicted by a roller coaster. har har

84. artspace writes on Twitter as Art, quoting a few artist’s tweets. How is that “art?” ah, but when did contemporary art make any sense?  Ed Ruscha is mentioned, and he seems to be everywhere, all of a sudden; and a Yoko Ono tweet is quoted, “Walk until you feel like dancing, then dance, and you’ll sleep better,” to paraphrase the tweet.

85. BBC’s Tech page tells us how Xerox mistakes can cause legal issues when a text is altered: the number ‘8’ may turn to a ‘6.’ Who is liable?

86. NY Times asks a few authors to come up with hypothetical pen names.

87. The guardian publishes more speculative folly on the biographical Shakespeare, this time by Saul Frampton.  Interesting glimpse into the ‘John-Florio-was-Shakespeare‘ camp, though.

88. Legal rumblings around J.K. Rowling’s exposed pseudonym by the BBC.

89. Another slightly boring “best of” list: Martin Amis (looking haggard in his photo) tops the “10 best writers-in-novels” in the guardian.  

90. A story published in the 1980s by John Updike on the Library of America site.  Breathless, clotted descriptions of pretty women in the pretty suburbs.

91. In the Chicago Tribune, Michael Robbins tackles that endless subject, Song Lyrics v. Poetry, and like everyone who else who tackles the subject, says in a rather sweet manner, nothing.  We come away from it merely thinking, “Oh, you like that song?”  It’s not you, Michael, it’s the topic.

92. Times Times 3 features Harry Northrup’s poems.  Mediocre beatnik poetry.

93. Gossip about the English-Irish boy band, The Wanted in the Sun.

94. Paul Butterfield Blues Band, who played behind Dylan when he first went electric, get some ink on the NPR website.

95. Opening chord of Hard Day’s Night is discussed by Randy Bachman on the Open Culture website video.  This is cool.

96. Audiovisual Salvage: a conversation with Phil Niblock, who films working people doing their work.

97. NY Times reports that Bob Dylan’s paintings (portraits) will open August 24 at the London National Portrait Gallery.  He paints like he sings, a little roughly.

98. artspace features a husband-and-wife team who do interior designs of apartments in Paris which include their own abstract paintings.

99. According to artspace, contemporary art is doing fine.  Higher ed art education still attracts students.  The royal family of Qatar still spends a billion dollars a year on modern art.

100. hyperallergic reports on Andy Warhol’s birthday celebration: a livestream video of visitors to his grave.

101. The NY Times tells you how to buy stock in local artists.

102-104.  NY Times, New Yorker, and Deadline Detroit on the Detroit Museum’s idea to sell off art to help bankrupt Detroit.

105. Debtfair asks readers to tell how their economic realities impact their artistic practices.

106. Scientific American explains how artworks naturally decay.  It must be the Conceptualist debate that has Silliman linking all this art news.

107. Philly.com on Nelson Shanks, a figurative artist who does portraits of famous people.

108. Auction at Christies will include Francis Bacon’s old brushes, according to hyperallergic.

109. Now this BBC story we like. Voted by the people, an “Art Everywhere” exhibit on billboards in the UK features pre-Raphaelite and mostly figurative art!

110. Glasgow School of Art threatens to expel artist for his graffiti, as reported in hyperallergic.

111. artspace does a story on a couple of old gents who have come up with a modern art collection in their apartment without spending too much.

112. “FBI-Seized Forgeries Get A Gallery Retrospective” at Fordham University, according to hyperallergic.

113. hyperallergic looks at the artist Basil King. We’d rather not.

114. BBC looks at a Dutch artist and his Calligraffiti.  Cute.  The artist is Niels Meulman.

115. A performance artist sits at a school desk outside a government building.  Some people assume he’s been punished for something.  Philly.com.

116. NYT Books looks at new book on Ballanchine.

117. In the NY Times: Paul Szilard, dancer, 100, has died.

118. “Vienna principal flute speaks out about her ‘racist, sexist’ dismissal” in arts journal.

119. Hi Fructose looks at Scott Scheidly’s Pink Frames.  Artist portrays famous criminals, tyrants and thugs in pink.

120. Artspace: Jeffrey Deitch retires from LA Museum of Art.  And a whirl of gossip in the art world…

121. continent interviews performance artist Daniel Peltz who is working on businessmen in drum circles.

122. Artspace on Doug Wheeler:  “page no longer exists.”

123. “Lone Ranger’s” failure at the boxoffice: star and director blame critics.  In the guardian.

124. New film, “Museum Hours” directed by Jem Cohen and reviewed by A.O. Scott in NY Times. Shot in a Vienna art museum.  Rave review.

125. hyperallergic reports a study in which test subjects like good art over kitschy art the more they are exposed to the two kinds of art.  Only two paintings (landscapes) are used: John Everett Millais’ “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” (1892) and Thomas Kinkade’s “A Peaceful Retreat” (2002).

126. British playwright Mark Ravenhill says artists who do not feed at the government trough will make better art.  From the BBC.  We’re not going to touch this one.  But we see Ravenhill’s point.

127. trinketization provides some Adorno/Marcuse correspondence. 

128. one more time for the blog continent: “The Media Have Become Superfluous” is worth reading for its cultural historic sweep in a brief space.  Otherwise not worth reading.  But it’s pretty impressive for that first reason.

129. A send-up of Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek on you tube to the tune of “The Great Pretender.”

130. Chicago Tribune: Poet Michael Robbins reviews a book on Karl Marx, saying Marx still matters.

131. Story in the guardian defends Edward Snowden, shouting out, wake up, people!

132. first monday blog features a very dull essay on “micro-targeting” of voters in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere.  It put us to sleep.

133. The NY Times magazine does a heartwarming story on author George Saunders’ commencement speech on “kindness.”

134. Oakland Unseen has a story on hipsters leaving Oakland: “Jack White flight.”  It seems to be a joke.  “Where are they moving?  Some say Detroit.”  Yes, it must be a joke.

134 links???  Ron Silliman, are you kidding me??   Well, thanks, Ron… until the next one…


Painting of Boxing

Yes it is.

And here’s why.

In thinking generally about anything–and all creative thinking is general thinking–it is always better to think in dualities.

If the universe has a fundamental building block, it is a duality. The One doesn’t exist.

The universe begins with two, and whenever we ponder philosophically about anything, a duality naturally makes itself manifest.

So it isn’t the material/spiritual issue that’s so important as the duality itself.

This helps us solve the greatest mystery, by the way: why is there something and not nothing? As we notice, that question itself is a duality.  Once we’ve got a choice, we’re on the way to not having nothing. The duality, or choice, is the primitive, pre-existing thing.

So let us examine this material/spiritual duality as simply as possible, with confidence we are on the right track, in a general, creative way.

As simply as we try to look at it, however, we find the very nature of dual thinking performs the unexpected.

To keep things as simple as possible, so that our pondering does not get sidetracked, let’s call ‘material’ a thing and ‘spiritual’ the feeling about that thing.

Now look what happens: since we cannot experience a thing without having a feeling about that thing, the duality of ‘thing/feeling about thing’ collapses into ‘feeling about thing.’

One side of our duality, ‘thing,’ has vanished, and yet look: ‘feeling about a thing,’ the remaining side of the duality, is a duality, just more compressed, since thing and feeling are not divided, but attached–‘feeling about a thing’ is feeling and thing existing together apparently as one.

Or is it one?

It is a duality to ponder the One; duality is inescapable.

Why fight it then?

Love someone completely.  Obey the Two.

Increase your wisdom and understanding: empathize with the other side.  Enlightenment is the Two, not the One.

On vacation this week, and enjoying leisurely conversation with family, typical left-leaning Americans, concerned with the destruction of the planet, I had the pleasure to roam Sunapee, New Hampshire’s annual craft fare with them and observe the strange beauty of sculpture and clothing and furniture and hand-made jewelry and woodworking and ceramic and brass and glass work, the gamut of art work in general—and it happened to co-exist briefly in my mind with what is considered odious: its opposite, the burning of fossil fuels, the activity now considered villainous.

The art work is the spiritual materialized.  Energy finding its rest in the material work of art.

The work of oil and coal companies is material turned into energy.

As human beings, we are both: we are a work of art, a material manifestation of interest and beauty.

We also are burning with energy and because of this burning, we will die.

No wonder oil companies are both antithetical to art and a metaphor for death.

From oil barons to oil states, the last 200 years have burned brightly with wealth and inequity, and energy realities have made us aware of human mortality bound to a limited planet.

But to live, we must burn fuel, we must turn the fuel into energy.

And to be artists, we must do the opposite: somehow arrest energy in the art piece.

This goes a long way to explaining the great rift in our nation today between the ‘artistic liberal’ and the ‘big oil conservative.’

But this duality does not need to explain anything.  It was just a pleasant rumination as I moved among the craft pieces arranged in booths with the craftspeople forced to sell their wares (quite expensive, they were) like businessmen.

Dualistic thinking is always surprising.  As soon as a duality is established, it is in its nature to collapse, but this energy is what generates more thinking and makes the dualistic enterprise so profitable, as long as we don’t get impatient with all the collapsing.  We need to stick with it.  It is a lovely way to allow the mind to move along.

It was a beautiful day at the crafts fare, both cloudy and sunny.  I found myself looking at a ceramic piece, its shape, its color, and imagining it in my home and guests coming into my home and how would it speak to them.  I noticed that I was often attracted immediately by the unusual bright colors of a ceramic piece; but then I would examine it more closely: is this too gaudy?  Is this me?

Judgment is spiritual—the thing itself is not spiritual.

The New Critics insisted a poem worked like a clock; they would examine a poem as if it were a pure object.

The New Critics believed True Criticism should look only at ‘the poem, ignoring the biography of the poet and the poem’s effect on the reader.

The New Critics made the fatal mistake of ignoring duality as they viewed the poem as a singular, self-contained product.

But can we know a light bulb (the poem)—without studying its light source (the poet), or the light which it produces? (the reader).

The fanatic and the purist, who disdain the constantly evolving duality (Socratic dialogue) resemble the professor who resents the ‘wrong’ kinds of questions, the questions that undermine his singular belief system.

There has been some controversy in the poetry world, lately, on the topic of “Conceptualist Poetry.”  Is it just a fraud?  From what we have been saying, it is easy to notice that “Conceptualist Poetry” is not conceptualist at all.  Like any art product, it is conceptual poetry’s material result that matters: conceptualist poetry, like any art, is a thing whose spiritual (or conceptualist)  dimension depends on what an audience feels about it.

Clever enough to guess right away what a conceptualist poem is, I look at a conceptualist poem and feel nothing.

What shall I feel about Kenneth Goldsmith’s rusty bucket?

It is safe to safe to say a conceptualist poem lacks a conceptual/spiritual/intellectual element.

It is the art product which produces no feeling at all.

It may as well be burned—like a piece of coal.

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