You Don’t Always ‘Get’ Art, But We Still Need More Of It

- - Art

Editors Note: I reached out to APE correspondant Jonathan Blaustein after seeing an old VICE article titled “I’m Sick Of Pretending: I Don’t ‘Get’ Art” making the rounds on social media. Here’s his reaction:

Rob asked me to respond to Glen Coco’s article, making the rounds 05.02 in VICE, trashing last year’s Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London. I’m sure it’s because he knows I’m not afraid to speak my mind, but it could also be that I just raved about the current slate of exhibitions presented there. It’s certainly a juicy bit of text, and has gotten a lot of people talking about Art, which is hard to do.

Mr. Coco, beyond pointedly hating the show, basically suggested that perhaps he doesn’t get Art. His credentials and opinion imply otherwise, but let’s take him at face value. What he doesn’t get about Art is not why people make it, or why they like to look at it, but rather why nobody ever has the stones to call bullshit. (Other than him, I imagine.)

I’m very, very fortunate that I’ve been able to see so many brilliant paintings, sculptures and photographs over the years. My travels have taken me to many of the World’s best museums, and I lived in major cities on both American coasts. If I haven’t said this enough, forgive me, but there are few experiences more joyous and educational than standing in front of a piece of brilliant Art. Particularly, but not necessarily, when the maker is already dead.

Art is like time travel, which is why people continue to make it, and have since we were standing upright. I figured this out while living in New York, and visiting the Metropolitan Museum on a regular basis. Take Rembrandt, for instance. Four hundred years or so ago, he made some paintings. True. But he also imbued those objects with his psychic energy. It’s in there still. When you feel your guts get all churny while standing in front of one of his self-portraits, you’re responding to the man himself. Like I said, time travel.

What, you might reasonably ask, does that have to do with Mr. Coco’s article? Well, everything. What he’s criticizing is Art the commodity. The word is out, in 2012, that the high art world exists to please the very, very rich. They’re the ones that buy super-expensive contemporary art, naturally, and they don’t like to lose money. Ever.

Brilliantly, they’ve figured out a way how to avoid it: never let the price of a work of Art, once it’s famous, go down. Ever. If that sounds a bit like a Ponzi scheme, perhaps it is. If no one ever admits that art is crap, or that a famous artist has long since lost the touch, then prices can’t and don’t fall. The same group of people trade objects, each helping prop up the market for his or her buddies. If that sounds a bit like an unregulated commodities market, that’s because it is.

And what is the result? Perhaps a world in which most people feel mystified, condescended to, and generally offended by much of what is considered “hot” or “special.” The idealistic notion that the best of what we make is meant to be preserved, left to future generations to sort out what life was like back then, (Now), is left to angry bloggers and Jed Perl to bitch about. Because normal people don’t care one bit. They’re too busy playing video games, or watching football, or buying lottery tickets.

I believe we need more Art, not less. More people out there making cool shit, pushing their brains sideways, and hopefully eliciting interesting questions from the people who look at it. More public support for the Arts will lead to more monkeys typing away, which of course will lead to a more intelligent society. Make it so.

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 24 Comments On This Article.

  1. Definitely agree with this Jonathan.

    People tend to get caught up with the art market these days as prices have drastically risen over the course of the last 20 years. It is a shame because people are missing one of the integral essences of humanity. Our ability to appreciate the arts should not be diminished by the overheating of a market.

    We need to continue to support the arts, increase our funding for art education, and continue to raise the level of quality of art every year. Only then can we truly be proud of our existence in the pantheon of human history.

  2. Richard Skoonbeg

    When I was young, I was a drama major and the same phenomena was going on theater. There are and there always have been a lot of horrible plays… awful, awful stuff. There are a always a few brilliant ones as well. There is an expression in the theater that goes, “It takes a whole lot of s*&t (manure) to grow flowers.” My experience also indicates that is true in visual arts as well. So many art photos today DO look like ‘snapshots,’ because that is what they ARE! (But they were snapshots taken by serious painters…)

    Get your knee high boots on and start wading through the s*&%… (manure).

  3. Works of art touch each of us in different ways. I am fully aware that I will not always get it, no one should always get it. I also know that when I do get it, the art becomes very meaningful.
    Jonathan, I love reading your posts about photo books, but I don’t always agree that they are art, or even that they are any good at all, but one or two of them have become very special.
    To me, one of the greatest things about art is when you push through all the junk that makes my mind go numb, and you find that piece or artist who makes me stare, converse, question, and inspires me to go out and maybe do the same for someone else.

  4. I agree that we all need more thought provoking and emotionally stirring art. Art, in my humble opinion, is something that when viewed must move the viewer. To that end ‘Art’ is entirely and completely subjective. Some dude puts together 3 color swatches (2 of which are the same color) and sells it to the Canadian Government for $1 million plus. ‘Art’? Apparently it is to someone. I agree with Jonathan that the art community needs more people to cowboy the hell up and call BS a LOT more often. I attended a mixed media exhibition opening recently, one of the pieces consisted of 5 large bags of Kibbles and Bits on a wooden pallet. I mean really…. give me an f***ing break.

    • ” I attended a mixed media exhibition opening recently, one of the pieces consisted of 5 large bags of Kibbles and Bits on a wooden pallet. I mean really…. give me an f***ing break.”

      Did it sell?

  5. What a great, useful and often obscured differentiation. Commerce likes to use Art but tastes change. There certainly are some fundamental ideas that the different arts as a means of expressing thoughts and emotions deal with and these ideas evolve and build on one another. On the other hand, once money, especially big money, gets involved things tend to get conservative really fast (As William Burroughs once wrote “We all know that money like s to make money”) and among all of the other characteristics of money, it is addictive. This is true for makers of Art as well as the sellers and collectors of it.

    This money driven conservatism is one reason why working artists are often (if not always) advised by their agents to specialize: it makes it easier for potential clients to feel safe with you and makes it easier to sell what you do. On the subject of agents even if you don’t have an agent, you do: besides yourself someone in a potential client’s office likely has to sell you to someone higher up the food chain.

    If you are dealign with collectors and the art market, the issue is even more naked as Jonathan points out. No emperor of their own domain likes to be told they are wearing no clothes.

    My point is just do the best work you are capable of doing.

  6. “The word is out, in 2012, that the high art world exists to please the very, very rich. They’re the ones that buy super-expensive contemporary art, naturally, and they don’t like to lose money. Ever.”

    And when has this not been generally true? Much of the stuff that fills our museums was made by people who depended on the largess of the wealthy (or the wealth of the church), unless it is of the classification “folk art.” It is also not clear that substituting government largess for individual wealth improves the situation substantially, or gets us better art. It just means art in service of a different agenda, maybe. It isn’t really clear that having more money or more art means getting better art; artists will tend to make art whether there’s money or not, and more money doesn’t make anybody more talented.

  7. Donnor Party

    I like Vice, or at least I did until Gavin and those guys stepped back from the day to day work of publication. In any case, don’t take it seriously. Vice is Mad Magazine for young adults, with all that implies.

    • I’d guess Mad Magazine would be surprised to hear that they are no longer Mad Magazine for young adults.

      • Donnor Party

        There are no tits and fashion and coke stories in Mad. I thnk Mad goes for the teen segment. Nothing wrong with that. Vice looks to the kids in their 20’s.

  8. scott Rex Ely

    The best way for me to understand art is to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Most people I find that like art, pursue art as a hobby and maintain a presence of art in their lives are really in the Esteem needs, basically one away from the top slot of self actualization. People who are “true” artists to me are in the top category of Self- Actualization. Thanks for a great discussion.

    Physiological needs- These are the basic needs of air, water, food, clothing and shelter. In other words, physiological needs are the needs for basic amenities of life.
    Safety needs- Safety needs include physical, environmental and emotional safety and protection. For instance- Job security, financial security, protection from animals, family security, health security, etc.
    Social needs- Social needs include the need for love, affection, care, belongingness, and friendship.

    Esteem needs- Esteem needs are of two types: internal esteem needs (self- respect, confidence, competence, achievement and freedom) and external esteem needs (recognition, power, status, attention and admiration).

    Self-actualization need- This include the urge to become what you are capable of becoming / what you have the potential to become. It includes the need for growth and self-contentment. It also includes desire for gaining more knowledge, social- service, creativity and being aesthetic. The self- actualization needs are never fully satiable. As an individual grows psychologically, opportunities keep cropping up to continue growing.

  9. My take is that there is really a lot of crappy bullshit art that has been and continues to be created now because ‘art’ as a form of human expression looked at as a whole body of works is a reflection of our modern society and culture.

    Unfortunately, huge aspects of modern first world culture are also crap. Very little modern art reflects any kind of values or specific points of view. And if it does try the aesthetic of work doesn’t help the cause. Sure, there could be some grand idea or point behind a specific photo or piece of string. But, as a viewer if I can’t see and understand that… well then it sort of missed it’s mark and can more easily be interpreted as crap….

    I agree with everything Jonathan has said, but would add that we need more ‘thoughtful’ and ‘meaningful’ art. Not more crap art.

  10. Rituals in the Arts have been part of human history since the beginning. Art is created to be experienced by others and engages us in community even when our reactions to Art are deeply personalized. You are welcome to like “Modern Art District” on Facebook. 
    http://www.facebook.com/ModernArtDistrict

    If you have more questions please contact.

    Modern Art District
    National Design Consultant 
    Jacqueline Correa
    Phone: (512) 200-4ART
    ModernArtDistrict@gmail.com

    Rare Contemporary Art

  11. No mention of Burning Man? It’s one of the largest, most intense displays and celebrations of art there is. And there are always lots people working away, far away from the galleries of NYC–or any art scene for that matter–on their art. So part of the issue of “needing more art” isn’t so much needing more people to create more of it, but instead exposing more of their creations to the public. Because there is more than enough for everyone’s tastes out there somewhere.

  12. Rituals in the Arts have been part of human history since the beginning. Art is created to be experienced by others and engages us in community even when our reactions to Art are deeply personalized. You are welcome to like “Modern Art District” on Facebook. 
    http://www.facebook.com/ModernArtDistrict

    If you have more questions please contact.

    Modern Art District
    National Design Consultant 
    Jacqueline Correa
    Phone: (512) 200-4ART
    ModernArtDistrict@gmail.com