Archive for the ‘English’ Category

Quality in Art Part 7

April 15, 2007

If we take a look at the art in the first part of the 1980s it will be possible to observe some of the trends. There are a few things to clear out when looking for quality:  When looking into this period we will find some very established names that are representing the most interesting art. Here we can find Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Dan Graham, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Lawrence Weiner,
Richard Long, Cy Twombly, Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto etc. All of them had already been chosen many times and have established networks. They can also be seen as leading members of well known art movements like pop, minimalism, conceptual art, arte povera. Still today their positions in the art world have not changed.
 
But then we have all the new names and the new trends characterizing the early 80s. The strong movement of new painting: Italians: Chia, Clemente, Cucchi, Paladino.
USA: Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Eric Fischl, Roberto Longo, Jean Michel Basquiat.
Germany: Baselitz, Penck, Immendorf, Kiefer, Hödicke, Salomé, Fetting, Middendorf, Richter, Polke, Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberger and Danish Per Kirkeby.
 

We also have the British sculpture: Tony Cragg,
Richard Deacon,
Antony Gormley, Bill Woodrow
 
And the photo conceptualists from the USA and
Canada:
 Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, Jenny Holzer, Louis Lawler, Jeff Wall. 

And others of great interest at that time like: Gerhard Merz, Wolfgang Laib, Jonathan Borofsky, Joel Shapiro. Which of these survived the following 20 years? If we use the ranking from artfacts.net we will find this list: 

Gerhard Richter                   4* (postmodern, distance, non-authentic)

Cindy Sherman                  11* (postmodern, postfeminism)

Sigmar Polke                     15* (postmodern, non-authentic painting)

Martin Kippenberger +      16* (non-authentic authentic)

Baselitz                              18   (real painter, upside down)

Jeff Wall                            45* (photoconceptualism with picture quotations)

Anselm Kiefer                   56  (German history)

Immendorf                         88  (German contemporary history)

Tony Cragg                        98 (expansion of the bounds of sculpture)

Albert Oehlen                  104* (postmodern, fake paintings)

Penck                               116 (real painter with a strong trade mark)

Jenny Holzer                    119* (postmodern, sculpture as words)

Lüpertz                             132 (real painter)

Barbara Kruger                164 (postmodern, postfeminism)

Keith Haring +                 180 (graffiti artist)

Paladino                           216 (real painter)

Clemente                          223 (real painter)

Louise Lawler                  228 (postmodern, appropriation)

Jean Michel Basquiat +    237 (graffiti based artist)

Per Kirkeby                      245 (real painter, experimental sculpture, fluxus)

Sherrie Levine                  246 (postmodern, appropriation) 

(The asterisk is showing artists who still are of interest in the contemporary art of today). 

It is quite clear that the survivors are connected to the dominating trends. Post-modern non-authentic painting is one of the main qualities while those artists being more or less traditional expressionists have faded away. Not that these artists have totally lost their carrier. Any artist being a part of a strong trend will create a network good enough for a reasonable future. Photo-conceptualism, post-feminism and appropriation have also become a strong survivor while the previous domination of painters like Schnabel and Salle has lost most of its position. The pioneers of graffiti have also become a part of the quality of the 80s.

cragg-newstones-newtons-tones-1978.jpg

Tony Cragg New Stones Newton’s tone 1978 

Quality in art part 6

April 3, 2007

Let us say that one of the main factors for quality is relevance. To be possible as a quality work an artwork must be relevant at a certain time. A relevant art for example at the time of Documenta in 2002 and the following years deals with questions about post-colonialism, migration, gender and the like. The media is less important but preferably a video. This is of course not an absolute rule. There are exceptions especially somewhat older artists whom already have become established and keep on working in their particular fields. And it is possible to find new artists who are making a career outside the mainstream of quality. But they are not many. 

We should also keep in mind that quality has a strong relation to time. To specify quality we should also look at a time scale: 

  1. Short-term quality (“one-timers”) which means a fast and high raise in quality for an artist but only for a short period.
  2. Trend quality which means an artist who is seen as representing a high quality during a trend which is considered being important and thus a quality in itself. When the trend is loosing its impact and importance or is interpreted in another way its level of quality will decrease.
  3. Historical quality, background. Artists who remain on a high level of quality for a very long time though as a part of an important movement where they are not the absolute key figures.
  4. Historical quality, foreground. Artists who remain in history of art as leading represents of an art movement or a strong and lasting individual career.

 

 

When looking at the curators as creators of quality one should notice the conditions. Curators engaged in biennials and the like are normally following an accepted set of structure in the exhibition. The exhibition will consist of 1) A group of well-known and established artists 2) A group of rather known artist regularly used in other biennials 3) Lesser known and local artists. The short label for this structure is: Reference, standard quality and “new blood”. 

Hitherto I have stressed the importance of the chosen artist: A chosen artist will be chosen again. But, of course, curators will make their own choices from what they believe in. But again the work will be looked upon through a set of standards: Relevant according to existing trends and what is considered as interesting subjects. Relevant but also surprising and expanding the themes (of course, the way of looking at an artist is a matter of the interpretations made by agents of the artworld). A clear profile concerning form and content. And we must remember that the most basic law for choosing an artist is Relevant Newness or the even better opportunity Upcoming Relevant Newness. 

The curators are also looking for artists in gallery exhibitions, in all kinds of projects or experimental scenes and within programs for artists in residence and in art school exhibitions.  

It is most likely that the first exhibition an artist will make will be in a gallery. And this makes the gallery owner to one of several persons choosing artists.  

The artwork itself is a minor object in the story of quality. To make a relevant work of art which also contains newness and being recognizable as a brand is not too difficult. All artists are of course not capable of producing such works but too many are. It is rather obvious that the difference between the successful artist and the lesser successful or forgotten artist is promotion.  

In the very beginning of a career the artist probably has to be his or her own promoter. But this is certainly a temporary situation. Artists with international aspiration must be connected to a gallery and/or a part of a curator’s group of artists. The promotion work of these institutions has a good possibility to increase the artist’s value.  

There are more to take into consideration. The art critics and theoreticians play their part in saying yes or no to an artist as well as producing discourse. The power of these players is limited nowadays and actually the artist is most concerned about whether being written about or not, no matter how the outcome is. These text producers and judges are also useful as they can be bought to write catalogue texts and presentations. But it would be unfair to look at them as totally corrupt or without influence. They form a part of the art community and share the idea of relevance with the other players. And it is not unusual to have a critic and a curator in one person. 

Finally, in this section, we have to remember one more important person for creating artistic quality: The collector. The persons who are paying for the art are both important and active. 

The borders between the different agents are nowadays blurred. Notice the discussion at artworld salon. 

Next part will discuss some examples of quality artists.

Quality in Art: Part 5

March 29, 2007

 

The thing is that there are no 100 art projects available for a choice. The choice is made before. A network choice. Quality is already a fact before something is chosen. 

If we take the example with Documenta 11. Okwui Enwezor is chosen as director of the exhibition. The winds of globalization and post-colonialism are blowing and Enwezor is a good opportunity: Social critique,
Africa and a black man. He brings in 6 co-curators whom he has been working together with before. The team is in itself a composition of the global world. Each of them will of course bring in artists who they have been working with or have a special interest in. Enwezor has a strong interest in promoting black and African artists and documentary films. He is also interested in political activism as art. Thus it becomes a strong quality in this connection to have such an identity. It also means that Documenta will show less well-known artists whose range of quality quickly will rise.
 

Almost every artist concerned with post-colonialism will address this issue indirectly. The rule of “not illustrating” is a strong one.  That means that many artists are available. It is enough to have a working situation which reflects a post-colonialist aspect or that the artist himself is an example. And the team’s concept is also wide. One member of the team, Sarat Maharaj, has a strong interest in the concept of “translation”. Translation can in this connection be seen as “translation of one culture to another” and there it is. Maharaj himself is a perfect object for this period of post-colonialism being an Indian of origin, brought up in South Africa and professor in
London. He is also very intelligent and with an ability to lecture with a sense of poetic theory. Just listen to him here.
 

Enwezor and the curator team are of course concerned about making correct quality art and thus not forcing the exhibition to become an illustrated idea. This is not necessary as the only thing needed is works and artists which can be discussed in relation to the questions and the massive theoretical program which was the first parts of Documenta 11 (“four platforms”). A theme should not be overdone. 

If we sum up the exhibition it will be confirming a quality which already was established. A few African artist and a few documentary filmmakers were rather new name in the context but also that is needed for an exhibition. We have the rule for curated shows that they should bring forward some “new blood” – but hardly too new.  

The interesting thing when analyzing this – or any other exhibition – is that the quality was already established. The chosen ones were chosen because they had already been chosen. And those who are choosing were also chosen to make the correct choice for a certain quality present at that time. 

It is then simple to put forward why something is high quality in art. The argument used will be that art deals with certain relevant topics and then again added: with newness, incomprehensibility, being poetic, good aesthetic and so forth.  

It could be understood as if we have some, but a limited number of very good artists in the world. These artists are chosen because of their artistic qualities. But as we can see in Enwezor’s case; he is not satisfied. The African artists are not appreciated as they should be. So he picks some of these, hoping that this will change the situation. One can say that it really doesn’t. One curator, even with a magic power from such an exhibition as Documenta, cannot change a situation. The documentary filmmakers returned to documentary film after the exhibition and the new African artists and groups were mainly given a start. A promotion is a long track run. 

But if some African artists might not be appreciated as they should – how about all other artists? Here we probably have the clue. The artworld could be full of artists who are treated in an unfair way. Or is there no such thing as being treated unfairly? 

Next part will deal with this subject.

Quality in Art: Part 4

March 28, 2007

The characteristics which have been presented don’t give art an identity. There is still the problem with how an “art identity” will be brought into them. Here we have some important aspects:  

The existential level. Art is seen as a field of high discourse. This means that basic and deep questions concerning life and death are a natural level of art. It is a serious business. The backup for this are philosophers and their texts on art and aesthetics. And this came about from Kant and onwards. The point is that art is “talking back” to philosophy on the same level but in a non-philosophical way.  

Even when an artwork seems ridiculous or stupid it will be taken serious and discussed in a high discourse manner. That is, of course, if it is considered worthy. This means that it should carry enough quality. It is important to compare with our fields. Art can look like a student’s joke, sport or fashion. The difference is the existential level and the level of text which are attached to the work – or sometimes a part of it. 

This means that quality is built into the art system. A lesser good artwork or a bad one is an attempt that more or less failed. Some artworks can be seen as just formally a part of the artworld. For example mass-produced paintings or “bad taste” works can in a way be called art but they are not considered worthy for being a part of a higher discourse, which is quite obvious.  

Now, we have a possible answer to the question about how the artworld motivate quality in art. A work is considered being a part of the higher discourse, expressing an existential level and also expressing this through newness, incomprehensibility, poetic, and aesthetics. But this is not a satisfying answer as art in practice is more specific. The next step is to examine relevance. 

In order to achieve a high or a reasonable standard of quality an artwork must be relevant. That is it should fit into the existing issues. A work can be motivated as to have a high degree of quality if it to a large extent is showing similarities with already existing quality works.  

An example. The last 10-15 years the art connected with InCo has been about social and political issues: “social critique”. In practice this means that an artwork cannot achieve a standard of quality, become “interesting”, unless it is connected to this subject. But the social critique is a broad concept and includes different aspects as identity, gender, migration, post-colonialism, ecology, media, and institutional critique. All these subjects are not operating all the time. When Okwui Enwezor in 2002 created the Documenta 11 it was heavily based on post-colonialism. This huge exhibition had a strong impact on the artworld. The idea of post-colonialism as the leading quality content was spread all over the world. But post-colonialism can be understood in many ways and other forms of social critique did not disappear. Still it is possible to say that quality centred on this concept in the following years.  

When social critique and post-colonialism are used as foundation of quality it is necessary to combine it with the other aspects which were mentioned earlier. Thus it is possible to define the main quality at this time (approximately 2002 – 2006) as post-colonialism touching an existential level (could be a subjective perspective), showing newness (made in a surprising way – a documentary film could e. g. be extremely long), incomprehensibility (partly difficult to follow, not illustrating the theme), poetic and aesthetics. Of course, not all of the aspects have to be present or stressed.  

Next part: If the artworld has 100 projects on post-colonialism which are the parameters to choose the best ones?

Quality in Art Part 3

March 27, 2007

Another important aspect of quality is Newness. An artist is supposed to create something new. Such behaviour is not foreign to most fields in modern society. Our society is constantly developing new things: fashion and design must be new, companies need new strategies. Science and technology make new discoveries. But art has its own profile of newness. First it has to be new, and, second, connected with the concepts transcendence and transgression. The idea of a radical newness comes from the idea of the romantic genius; the genius was able to create a higher form of experience. The genius is nor more, but transcendence/transgression remains. Transcendence is the more profound change. But it is, however, very rare. It might be possible to talk about transcendence when modernism was created and later when Duchamp made his ready-mades. Conceptual art in the 1960s and post-modernism in the 1980s are other reasonable candidates. Transgression is an innovation within an existing system and more common. Provocation and challenging are other possibilities to claim that a work has newness. In modernism the only way to express newness was visual; newness meant a change or variation in what could be seen in the artwork. In InCo the newness can be constructed in the content, the aboutness. As there are only small variations left to be discovered in the visual aesthetics the standard for contemporary newness is the combination of different parts of a project: Aboutness, installation details, performing, activities etc.  

It is not necessary that the physical appearance or even the project as a whole is innovative. A written text can explain that the artwork is new, different and interesting. If it is accepted then, of course, we have newness. 

The production of artworks within InCo is enormous and as newness is a natural standard we have to face the conclusion that most of the newness is not new at all. It is a standard product. But the convention of art makes it impossible to accept a standard product as good enough. Therefore it is necessary to constantly create newness which are convincing for the artworld. This means in practice that the level of quality in today’s art is rather low. But it is normally only to be used for a short time. Then most such qualities will be completely forgotten.  

The presentation of newness is mainly to be found in the biennales or exhibitions of that kind. Newness does mean something like the spirit of time or at least a relevant view of the world around us. Therefore it is not the individual cases of transgressions which are the most interesting rather tendencies; a number of artist can be seen as creating a new vogue of meaning and statements. As everything in art today is related to the social, it has to be within this field. 

But it is still important for the individual artist to make enough newness to be recognized. The basic task for every artist is to express a certain style and/or a special range of interest and content in order to establish a “trademark”. “Trademark” is a bad word in art so very few members of the artworld use it in a positive way.  

Newness is a necessary aspect of quality but in practice the newness doesn’t need to be very alarming.  

Incomprehensibility is another necessary condition for quality. If an artwork is too clear it will not leave anything to the interpreter. An artwork is about something but should be so in a twisted way. To be unclear is a part of the art game. It happens that artworks are very clear often because of an interest in urgent social or political questions. It could work for a very short time but as it tends to be an illustration of something it breaks just this rule: Do not illustrate. Normally artists know this without thinking. To make the message a bit obscure and twisted are the way things normally works.  

Poetic and aesthetics. A work of art has certain effects which during modernism were the identity of art. Now poetic attitudes and aesthetics expressions are complementary aspects of quality. They are neither necessary nor sufficient but they are present in almost every work or project. If a project is made about refugees from
Iraq a straightforward documentary might not be enough for being a good work of art. The poetic and aesthetic effects are thus complementary as it is not possible to accept a full quality standard of an artwork (belonging to InCo) from only these aspects.
 

In the next part: The conclusion about how the mentioned aspects of quality will be made specific for art.  

Quality in Art Part 2

March 23, 2007

Thus the choice is one of the main issues in art. A very important part of the game is that the choice in itself is a quality. An artist who has been chosen several times for exhibitions in good places will be chosen mainly for being chosen before. The choice is of course connected with the establishment of a network. When a network is built it will become easier and easier for an artist to remain at a certain standard of artistic quality. 

That explains the main routines in the artworld. But, as I mentioned before, this is not enough to explain a success. There must be a beginning of a career and it is naturally important, at least to a certain extent, what an artist is doing.  

An artist starts his carrier by imitating other artists. As the new artist gets to know more about the contemporary art situation, the imitation normally turns to unique works. This is of course a “must” for an artist; one of the most basic rules is that an artist must do works of his own, different to others. Not all artists are capable of making works good enough to be recognized as “interesting” but I guess you can say that most of them are. At least if the invest in being serious and hardworking. Thus something new has to be created. This is not difficult. Constructing the work and creating a work with “newness”, add a meaning, an “aboutness”, is basic. Other important aspects of this kind are transgression, adding poetic dimension to a work, incomprehensibility, artistic twist. All these are artistic qualities and the fine thing is that they are uncontroversial; they are elements in art which everyone in the contemporary artworld agrees on. If we bring these qualities into a list we will get the following quality issues: 

AboutnessTransgressionNewnessPoetic dimensionIncomprehensibilityArtistic twist  

Now, it is important to describe the art we have today and recently. The art which is setting the trends and creating discussions, the art to be considered as the most progressive – in short where it happens – is the international contemporary art. It is to be found in the advanced places of exhibitions like the biennales, certain museums and galleries. Magazines are dealing with this art as well as newspapers, books and websites on the Internet. What we recently had was modernism which is much bigger than “international contemporary” (InCo). But it is not valid as the most advanced form. Modernism is today an art which makes no progress. It is rather a part of the history of art. Roughly it means the time from around 1900 until 1970. 

 

Aboutness is the answer to the question: “What is this artwork about?”  

Modernism is about form and aesthetics. The quality issues above are the same for InCo and Modernism. But Modernism has an essence: Art is about aesthetics though it has never been possible to define what exactly this means. Therefore when you turn to aboutness, something which answers the question: “What is the work about?”, the answer will always be the same: It is about form and aesthetics. That is the deeper level of aboutness. On a lower level a modernist artwork can refer to a style, or content, connected to the form. For example: It can be a cubistic work where certain methods are used to create the work. Or abstract expressionism where another aesthetic method is used and where the content normally is said to be about expressions of feelings or inner experience. 

When we turn to InCo the deeper level of aboutness is ideas. The artwork is thus basically about some sort of idea in contrast to the modernistic approach, the aesthetics. Indirectly this means that art does not have an essence; any idea can be brought into art. Art has no limits; anything can become an artwork. When the artworld accepts something as art it will be art as well as when the artworld accepts something as quality art it will be quality art. This is “the institutional theory of art” which refers to George Dickie and partly to Arthur Danto. But we should keep in mind that the theory is a stub and in the artworld it is not used in a deeper sense. “Aboutness” in this deeper sense doesn’t give an identity to an InCo artwork as the aesthetics did for Modernism.  

Aboutness on a lower level is much clearer in InCo. Since the early 1990s it has been totally dominated by social issues: “social critique”. It is also possible to be even more specific. Almost all art projects can be sorted as either about identity, gender, migration, post-colonialism, institutional critique or ecology.  

Aboutness is not in itself a quality rather a characteristic. But it is in practice necessary to supply an artwork with social critique (lower level of aboutness) in order to create the possibility of relevant quality. The relevant aboutness is of course not only a task for the artist. The construction of a coherent discourse on a specified social critique is normally created by critics and theoreticians.  

The deeper level of aboutness will always be taken for granted. Artist working within the field of InCo will always work with ideas as a point of departure. 

(Part 3 will soon be published)

Quality in Art Part 1

March 19, 2007

The idea about this writing is very simple. To define art and define quality in art. It sounds very ambitious and difficult. But it might be a reasonable task. 

Most writings on this subject go wrong from the very beginning. If you don’t find the art, if you just take it for granted, it will probably end up in a mess or another contribution to the long story of posing question about the nature of art. 

So, the first aim is to find the art. Either you have to find the authority who will be able to tell you what is art or not or receive a definition which will make it possible to see the difference between art and non-art. Of course this authority is the represent of the institution of art. Not a certain person or a special option but the general opinion. The point is to find what is valid, what is regarded as the opinion of the serious artworld. This could mean asking about art to an art historian, a critic, an aesthetician, an artist and so forth – as representing the general opinion of the artworld. 

It is obvious that there is something we call art in the contemporary society. We can find it in museums, galleries, read about it in books, magazines and newspapers. And there is such a thing as history of art where the qualified objects of art a brought together and organized after certain principles. 

This is the outline of the answer to the question about where to find the art. One important aspect is that the answer is connected with quality. Traditionally classifying art is equal to classifying a quality; art in this sense has always a standard of quality. Bad art is not art at all.  

But taking a liberal standpoint, and I don’t think this causes any controversies, we could say that there are many artworlds; most of them consisting of low quality art – but it will still be plausible to name it art. We can simply say that objects created for more or less aesthetic pleasure can be classified as art. It doesn’t mean that it is a correct definition of art, just that it is a widespread opinion and probably the only way to connect all the broad artworlds.  

It isn’t too interesting as the next step will be to formulate what actually is the qualified part of artworks. Thus, classifying art is something that can be done in order to get an overview, but it is not the point. Rather, the point is to be found in the qualified part of art.  

In most examination of art the target is the artwork itself. This may certainly be of interest but it could be a better strategy to start with how the artworks are handled. No doubt a clear sign of quality is when an artwork is chosen by represents of the advanced artworld institutions. This is e.g. the case with history of art. Here we find a general agreement about what is to be considered as good art and even very good art. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Goya and Manet are always chosen to be a part of the main core of history of art. And as most of the content in different books of the history of art is the same it is possible to say that there is a general – and uncontroversial – agreement about quality in art.  

What should be keenly observed is that it is about choosing. The artworks and artists in the history of art are chosen. To be chosen is the sign, the activity that concludes quality. The artworld confer the status of the object through choice. It is a necessary condition though not sufficient. There must also be a reason for the choice. But choice is safe as it is an activity which can be observed. Even if it is possible to find reasons it will be very hard to proof that a certain reason is why an artwork will be chosen. 

In the following part these subjects will be discussed: 

Are general opinions in the artworld always correct?A traditional history of art is a book on quality works. Certainly this is correct when the book is printed. But how was it before and how will it become later?Why is choosing important as a way of measuring the quality of an artwork and an artist?Is it possible to find the reasons why the artworld is choosing certain artworks?