Episode 82: David Robbins

March 25, 2007 · Print This Article

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This week Duncan and Richard talk to David Robbins.

David Robbins has had 30 solo exhibitions of his work internationally and has recently been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France. He has published four books, including a novella, The Ice Cream Social (1998), and his essays and satires have been published in Artforum, Parkett, Art Issues, and numerous other magazines and catalogs. He received his degree in American Studies from Brown University. He currently lives in Milwaukee.

His forthcoming book on concrete comedy sounds like one of the most interesting things ever and I personally have pre-ordered 400 copies on Amazon.

David Robbin’s most recent book “The Velvet Grind: Selected Essays,
Interviews, Satires (1983-2005)” comprises the last 22 years of his
imaginative and challenging departures from the conventional Art
wisdom.

Book Description (Borrowed from Amazon.com)
Asked to contribute to Artforum’s “Top Ten” column, David Robbins used
one of his entries for “Electricity: That we don’t annually celebrate
Electricity Day is unfathomable.” That sense of whimsy, even amid an
advanced critical sensibility, makes this collection of essays from
the past quarter century a great read. A regular contributor to
magazines such as Real Life (in the 1980s), Purple Prose (in the
1990s), and Artforum, Robbins is one of the first artists and critics
to investigate the art world’s entrance into the culture industry. His
work reflects on the spectacle, the transformation of the position of
the artist in the visual system, and the future role of the spectator
in art. This publication also brings together his key interviews with
Richard Prince, Allan McCollum, and Clegg & Gutman; his writings on
television, Hollywood, and Warhol; and contributions to his “Institute
for Advanced Comedic Behavior.”

It can be purchased here…
Amazon.com Website
Direct download: Bad_at_Sports_Episode_82_Robbins.mp3

39 Responses to “Episode 82: David Robbins”

  1. Ballshack baby Ballshack Says:

    Any information on when the Concrete Comedy book is coming out?

  2. you don’t need to go anywhere to make art.

    especially a large city.

  3. Ann Onymous Says:

    No, but you do need to go somewhere to have an audience, sell work and see work.

    I grew up in a smaller town and I would be relugated to craft fairs if I had stayed.

    It is fine to move somewhere small if you already have success.

  4. i lived in ny and spent four hours on a commute to staten island and back. don’t you think the work suffers?
    k

  5. and also i have been selling work in very small obscure towns. i am never at openings because they are all over. i rather live somewhere that i can afford as an emerging artist, have the time to work (i.e. no traffic, trains and the like..) and let my work sell where it may. a city is more of a burden, although i can see why most of us, including myself are attracted to them. if your work does the job, you shouldn’t need to be there to sell it. anyone?

  6. katie -I think that cities have always drawn artists together and due to the exchange/competition -created the most engaging work. How much of this will remain the case with the internet in play -is an interesting question.

    -But where I completely concur with you is the fact that while NYC is the marketplace -it really has long ago lost the attributes that made it the center of the art world after WW2- namely -cheap studio space -and, artists who are actually focused on making work as opposed to ‘making it’….

    -this is what is cool about Chicago -and what could be so much more so -if, we could get the denizens/patrons of both inner city country clubs -the MCA and The Art Institute to quit buying labels -and actually look, think, and begin to be engaged with what is being made here- and elsewhere for that matter…….

    as it stands now, your average truck driver -going with his wife and kids to the ‘Starvin Artist Sale’ at his local Holiday Inn actually execises way more esthetic discretion-when he asks the wife ‘honey, don’t you like the paintin’ with the pond better’n the one with the cows?’ -than ‘Mr Curators Collectors Group -rushing out to buy their very own ‘Josh Smith’ -……..Saatchi has one!

    Its just that stupid, that disgusting -and we should ridicule them. Maybe then, they’ll get a clue.

  7. my choice…Tokyo
    Size of New York, art scene of Chicago

  8. great show. great opening … you guys are such louts (meant in a good way.)

    For the first time in my life I know understand why andy kaufman was funny.

    also:

    There isn’t a BAS episode that goes by that references the chewbacca taking a dump on the toilet. I have yet to see the actual original image that you are referring, and I’m a little skeptical that it even exists. when I google chewbacca toilet crappy drawing I don’t get the results I am looking for.

    can someone provide a link to THE original chewbacca taking a dump artwork in question?

  9. i like to use saatchi for the free posting. i mean why not. i guess i rather build up or improve on an existing art community. make something happen where it might be less likely, less funded….

    i have been wondering – whats more important: blogs or sidewalks?

  10. less funded than Saatchi?………………..?!

    -there is a big difference between the artist site -and his own site -the one that empty headed followers of trend use to validate their shopping sprees -understanding the difference as an artist katie -is a good idea.

  11. mike kaysen Says:

    I find it interesting that so far everyone has keyed on the question whether or not one needs to move into an “urban center” in order to make art or be taken seriously by the art community. This topic was really only an aside in the larger discussion that I think is far more interesting and actually quite radical in scope. Mr. Robbins is arguing that the “language” of art is obsolete; that, in fact, it has died and the people using that language, teaching that language and framing the discussion in that language just don’t smell the rotting corpse yet.

    He is attempting to argue that technology has brought upon this death, that technology has allowed “anyone” to participate in the practice of art. In the near future, we won’t even call this activity “art” anymore. This is the new “democratic” age, the democracy of technology that we all keep hearing about.

    He is arguing that it is not necessary for art to be special. This is an interesting concept. Does art need to be special to be art? Historically, it has been. We revere the best of the best of these objects and ideas from different time periods and cultures. Whether or not someone goes to a school or is raised to appreciate the arts and culture and therefore, begins making things, the critical tools are still necessary. One has to be predisposed for some reason or another to want to, need to ask the questions about living and being that art and the practice of making art asks. Those critical tools are specific to artistic practice and must be present in one form or another.

    I think that I disagree. I think we need to ask “Is this democracy or ubiquity?” Is our culture better for it? I am not convinced yet. The truth is art has always been open to everyone, given the right circumstances. If one does not have to spend their day foraging for sustenance or working for the man, one can make art ……. Or one can play a game or drink or ……..

    Of course the door has been opened for many more to participate but I think that this may not be all for the best. More is not always better.

    As far as the illusion of freedom and democracy that the internet and technology have supposedly brought us, well I am surely still a skeptic. We must remember that the internet is a construct. It is a framework that exists in a very tenuous fashion and can be taken away actually quite easily. In fact, for the present time, the internet and the way it is used by the general (western) populace exists because nobody with greater political or economic power has decided to try to limit it’s use to a greater extent or to take it away entirely. Mr. Robbins is assuming that everyone knows about, has access to and “wants” access to the internet. This is a huge (and I am quite sure, mistaken) assumption.

    In reality, this technology can go away for any number of foreseeable and unforeseeable reasons. And then what??? Would people just go back to making art? Would art then be special again?

  12. Okay, I agree with Mike that this discussion is interesting on many levels and there is an immense amount to chew on here. I have to say that I want the second copy of the concrete comedy book (after Richard’s) because I think that it would be very helpful to me and my work. I have loved Andy Kaufman for so long for the very reasons Robbins explains.

    But, Mike, I am not sure Robbins is advocating that the “language of art has died”. I think all he is saying is that our culture is moving more and more into the direction of multiple fields of production and discussion in which a creative person can operate. What IS dieing, according to Robbins, is the dependence upon the art context as the sole, validating structure for a creative mind to operate within. Also, with his idea of “high entertainment”, the language of art plays some role in the creation (if not the reception) of something more accessible and mainstream.

    But why does the “art context” exist? Why do the accepted centers of the art context (NY, LA, etc) exist? Because the system demands that control and POWER be centralized in as few hands as possible. I am not convinced yet that the internet is entirely jeopardizing that situation. So I am not convinced Mike’s dire prediction will ever be needed to come true. It has certainly had its affect and the Napsterization of multiple areas of cultural and political production will continue, just not unabatedly.

    BAS’s opening bit lamenting the lack of art related writing in Chicago plays into this as well. It basically demonstrates the frustration of two cultural producers living in a town where they feel the things they and others produce cannot be counted as important within that larger art context. And on a practical level, where the lack of local written art dialogue results in less consumer and institutional support, this hinders the actual production of imaginative things and situations. So there is this psychological component to this where, after having realized that our lives can have meaning without being the quarterback, we then learn we have to meet other specific requirements ( go to the right school, live in the right city, etc) in order to live up to our creative potential. And this all plays a role in the continuation of the hermetic art context.

    I concur with Robbin’s suspicion of the title “artist” because I have always felt that that title needed to be bestowed upon me from the outside, once I meet a varying selection of criteria. But no matter how many wrong moves I make or how many professional blunders I buffoon my way into, no one can take away my imagination except mys

  13. ooo, add an “elf” at the end there.Just in case someone thought it would be “harona”.

  14. oh i meant the art community here in buffalo. sorry. i forget people read what i write.

  15. Kaveh,

    The original reference to the “Chewy Crap” Drawing is a reference to the old Three Walls Salon discussions. They hosted one called, something like “On Rainbows, Unicorns, and Fairies: New trends in “authentic” contemporary drawing” Actually it had a far more clever title, but you get the idea. In the discussion someone came up with it as an example of what was going on. I’m not sure if the drawing was ever made but I have a short list of possible suspects. Since the Salon it seemed like community short hand for idiosyncratic, context specific, gendered, faux-authentic, minimally rendered, and rigor-less subjective works on paper.

    Also I always thought it would be a kick ass drawing to have and to hang. If we had anything anyone wanted we would run a contest with the top five posted on our site.

    PS. Tell Richard to stop pressuring me to post on the blog.

    PPS. Have we really stopped caring about the “Reader” thing. It is going to be really hard to figure out where things are and when they are happening. For instance, can anyone not in school know what opens this weekend? I would suggest that this will make life here less easy for us art enthusiasts. Maybe new city will pick up the ball… opps, they’re changing formats. Are we really a totally disposable market?

    PPPS. Is Art really a faith based system?

  16. Dutch Uncle Suzy Says:

    these are mostly stupid comments

  17. mike kaysen Says:

    Re: Post # 16: Including yours, of course ……….. Try ADDING to the discussion.

  18. Dear Dutch,

    Fuck off, wanker.

    Love,

    Balzac

  19. During the interview, Robbins describes his idea of using art sensibilities to create something more accessible and mainstream, he uses the example of an artist making TV. I have been thinking about how music or rock and roll has been influenced by art starting with the no wave bands of the 70s, bands like DNA or Mars which influenced Sonic Youth. And more accessible bands like Talking Heads and the B52s owe alot to art sensibilities. More recently we have bands like the Shins, Mates of State, Deerhoof, Wolf Eyes which all owe a debt to art. The tradition of the art student rock band is alive and well.

    Not sure if this is what Robbins was getting at but its interesting how the specific language of visual art can be applyed to music like when its described as abstract or expressionist or deconstructionist or whatever.

    I mean, i think he is describing how truly avant garde work is created, thru this constant attraction and repulsion to the specialized language of art. So yeah I think art IS a faith based system, without which, we couldnt have true heretics.

  20. Why don’t we pick up the slack from the reader? I’m sure we could ad some sort of calender feature.

  21. An option certainly. They *DO* have listings online so far as I know. We could host a calender if someone wanted to spearhead the work. We aren’t in a position to add additional tasks at this point.

  22. Just to latch on to the continuing “big city” thing-

    I think that he’s refuting the wrong claim. I don’t think the majority of people are moving to the big city because they think they can’t make art anywhere else. I think most people move to the big city because that’s where the people are, and despite David’s (to me incomprehensible) love of his isolated suburban existence where he doesn’t interact with his neighbors and makes his art alone in his room, I think most people enjoy the company of a dynamic group of folks with similar interests and passions.

    I’m moving to NYC not because I think it’s the only place to be an art star; I’m moving to NYC because I really like the people who are there already, and the other people I know are following behind me. It is foolish to move to NYC to make work; it’s a fuckload cheaper to stay in chicago (or anywhere in the Dakotas) and make art, and you can more easily get your shit out and seen, because it’s a smaller pond (and then leverage that into international stardom. or whatever.)

    If you offered me a giant budget and the cover of art forum (or USA Today) on the condition that I lived in vermont, I would turn you down. In, as they say, a new york minute.

    Also… I appreciate the desire to have art just “be” in the popular culture (as I understand his argument- my headphone are a little crappy) but I think that there *is* something different between simply being creative and making art. Industrial design is unfettered creativity in a popular context, and while it’s pretty and useful, it isn’t making me think.

    which, goshdarnit, is one of the things I think art should do.

    I think this one of the reasons for an “art” modifier in our ‘context of looking at stuff’- we will then give it a second look and try to figure out what it’s talking about. The label is a goad to provoke examination, to force an assumption that there’s more there than the quick first read.

    anyway. will go relisten to it.

  23. Ol Dutch uncle, I would say these are ANYTHING BUT stupid comments. The discussion here is great.

    I am particular struck by Farwell’s and Creegan’s and most of all Kaysen’s comments. I was thinking — pro and con — much along the same lines as I listened. Sometimes Robbin’s thoughts struck me much like the Fluxus call to give up art and make other things, which simply often turned into being a designer, which I don’t see as any thought-provoking change.

    I was indeed stimulated by the cross-over in thought he and I have in what he calls “high entertainment,” wherein Robbins calls for bringing the criticality of high art to popular production. On the other hand I can envison a weak spot, or shallow approach to his ideas, which would simply result in a justification for “middlebrow” as against highbrow or lowbrow art — something theorist Leslie Fiedler decried as being far far worse than high- or lowbrow, and I agree. The suburban experience is, of course, predominantly middlebrow, and as Robbins seems to idealize it, that scares me. I don’t think Robbins practices it shallowly, but I could see certain applications of his thoughts resulting in very bovine, self-indugent, anticritical suburban middlebrow production thrying to pass as “creativity.” Well, anyway, those are my thoughts, still in formation.

    I find it great that Robbins brought us to such theoretical arguments once again here at BAS, away from local politics and power-plays.

    Congrats to Robbins and BAS and to Mike Kaysen, whose comment here is extremely well thought-out.

  24. Brian we could do a calender feature in which people could see a main page calender and have it reflect shows and give info and links. I am working on this now to see how stable I can get it to run but the big part is getting someone or a few someone’s to oversee the organization of the shows. it can get large as sites like the following can show.

    Chicago Gallery News
    http://www.chicagogallerynews.com/openings.asp

    email me your thoguhts…

  25. What a great episode, BAS! I have to take issue with Mark Staff Brandl’s comment that “middlebrow is far far worse than high- or lowbrow.” I believe one of David Robbins’ main points is that the middle ground between high art and the entertainment industry is an appealing alternative to the intellectual ghettos that are being created at those two poles. The middle ground is therefore an open field of possibility for “independent imaginations” to explore modes of production that are as of yet undefined.
    I also don’t believe the suburbs necessarily lead to “bovine, self-indulgent, anticritical production.” I think David Robbins is presenting the suburbs as a context in which power is dispersed rather than concentrated in the hands of a few, creating an environment in which it is unnecessary to use the “specialized, hermetic language of high art.” The suburbs can be seen as a middle ground in themselves.

  26. mike kaysen Says:

    Again, I must disagree with Mr. Robbins. At my core, there is something about his position that does not track. The only relevant position that I can identify (not that there aren’t any others, I just don’t see em’) is that the main position of “the artist” in culture as defined by the current cultural construct is that the artist is there to question accepted forms and criteria of the culture at large. Question and reflect upon the system. This is our charge. That process of questioning also includes accepted structures of the production of art and the interaction of the artist with culture at large.

    That being said, I am not convinced that artist can therefore operate effectively in the middle ground; from a “middlebrow” position. In fact, I suspect that there is a mixing and matching of defining terms going on in this discussion. In reality, I believe terms and definitions are being used in a context in which they don’t really apply; a “comparison of apples and oranges”, if you will.

    These descriptors define a “place” or position; one is either in one or the other, correct?? Simply put, can you be in two places at once??? I’m not sure one can make “high art” from a “middlebrow” position. To me it seems as if the two terms actually work against one another; one is either making or creating in the “middlebrow” position or one is making or creating “high art”.

    Once Art Spiegelman makes “Lead Pipe Sunday”, he is no longer making a comic. He has elevated some of the comic book forms into the realm of high art because he is applying high art constructs to the form of the comic book, but it is still high art.

    Conversely, Bill Watterson may be applying highly conceptual forms to the strip ”Calvin and Hobbes”, but it is still a comic strip. Personally, I’m O.K. with that. In fact, I enjoy both examples just fine where they are and see no need to mix up terms. In fact, I think things are better that way. We know what we are asking ourselves about because we have a pretty good idea what we are dealing with.

    mk

  27. Mike, I think Mr. Robbins made it clear that he believes there should still be peopel called “artists” operating within an art context and creating “high art”. His main point was that that should not be only one of two options, the other being to operate in the entertainment industry. What he’s calling for is people of ambitious intellect or “independent imaginations”, not necessarily artists, to operate in a middle ground and create things that aren’t art but are rather near art, or around art, or opposite from art. I believe this an incredibly exciting and beautiful idea.

  28. After relistening to the show (I know, I know, masochism runs rampant) I am perhaps agreeing with Maura Thompson’s last comment (though not the first; I perhaps am unfamiliar with the various ‘brows, but i am unaware of these high and low intellectual ghettoes) ; it seems that Robbins was not necessarily calling for artists to make TV instead of art, but for Creative People of intellect not to accept Art (i.e. the framework of Art and the whole Art System) as the only place that they could possibly find fulfillment and out outlet for their creativity. And, likewise, for art not to think it has cornered the market on those qualities.

    This seems like a good point (whether it was the one he was making or not) for two reasons: One, it makes artists less pretentious, and two it makes art more approachable. If Art constantly thinks that It is the only place where people of creativity and intellect can flourish, then it will inevitably lead to Art thinking it’s smarter/more interesting than Everyone Else, and Everyone Else turning their back on Art’s arrogance.

    Creativity is not simply something which expresses itself as a proficiency with The Arts, but which should be lauded in all aspects of thoughtful creating/doing. So that if one is making Comics, to do them with intellect and creativity. I don’t know that Maus is better than Calvin and Hobbes, but I know both are more creative and intellectually engaging than Cathy. Perhaps Maus is “art” and C&H is “brilliantly clever and creative comics” but Cathy is “crap”. The distinction between the first two is debatable (imho), but I think Robbins is simply arguing for both of them against the third.

    It seems like the great advantage of trying to do everything you might pursue with creativity and intellect is that, even if you are An Artist, it allows you to not be dependent on The Art System in order to achieve self-satisfaction… and given the capricious nature of that system, this seems like some of the most intelligent advice one could give an artist. Conveniently, this also reinforces another of Robbins’ ideas, that the artist should be open to incorporating other, nontraditional modes of production in their artmaking – if you value both, crossover is less heretical.

    and the suburbs, whatever they may have w/r/t decentralization of power, still suck ass. suckity-suck-suck-suck.

  29. ps – happy impending passover. may your seder and satyr meet and recline on the left side.

  30. I think Mr. Robbins’ thesis in the episode is far more radical than Mr. Farwell’s interpretation. I understand Mr. Robbins to be saying that the artworld is no longer the primary or most interesting place for people of ambitious intellect to produce and affect culture. He advocates the creation of “high entertainment” which does away with the specialized language on which the artworld depends in favor of accessibility and ambition for the culture as a whole. It’s not as Mr. Farwell says that Art is still the primary place for expression, but artists have to incorporate other nontraditional modes of production in their artmaking; the fact is that the most interesting production is occurring in the middle ground between the artworld and the entertainment industry and will continue to be produced and contextualized there rather than in the world of “high art.”

  31. Hmmm. Perhaps I am expressing myself poorly. I simply reject the idea that what distinguishes art is the medium or mode of its production. What I am referring to as “High Art” can exist within any mode of production. Painting isn’t Art just because it’s painting, any more than TV is NotArt just because it’s TV. Perhaps our disagreement is one of definition; I think I’m simply defining Art as intelligent creative work that can goad its maker or viewer into thought. It doesn’t have anything to do with medium (Cf Maus and Cathy, above). This goad could come from in-depth analysis, from gut reaction, from historical appreciation, whatever.

    I also admit a grand ignorance of the entertainment world (no TV, don’t watch much in the way of movies, don’t really listen to a lot of music) and would greatly appreciate some examples of this “most interesting production” that is going on out there. (And I mean that in a sincere, rather than a snarky way. Perhaps I have simply not seen it.)

    (as an aside, the most interesting and exuberantly creative things I’ve seen in the last month have been both within and without the art world (the funhouse of Stingel at the MCA, and the super-rad work of the people at the graffiti research lab and the anti-advertising agency, who everyone probably knows about already, but who I just saw recently [check out, for example, http://graffitiresearchlab.com/?page_id=76#video or http://antiadvertisingagency.com/category/projects/light-criticism/ ]) Both are awesome, both are simultaneously exclusive/inclusive, both are really creative, both are popularly well-received. Neither requires a specialized language to understand, though both are receptive to the application of rigorous analysis within an academic/art framework.)

    I also disagree with the idea that the artworld was _ever_ “the primary or most interesting place for people of ambitious intellect to produce and affect culture.” Artists are often at the edges of society, and intent on creating interesting and unusual or thought-provoking work. This means that they will often explore a position which is not mainstream at the time, but which later becomes so. History seems to point to past artworks as representative of cultural shifts, but I do not think this means that they alone were responsible for the cultural shift.

    Any cultural change requires a large and wide-ranging force arrayed behind it, and while art is sometimes a rallying-point, we should not confuse the banner with the brigade behind it. Indeed, by the time the artist is part of any established art world, the cultural margin they were interested in has often become more mainstream… the “art world” itself being a fairly conservative construction.

    i do tend to blather on. hope it’s making some sort of sense.

  32. The artworld:…..the artworld for me is right here in my studio where it belongs -to quote Lee Bontecou and more specifically, the canvas I happen to be camped out in front of -to quote me. Sure, there is creativity in many fields and I understand that Mr, Robbins is displaying some integrity in trying to offer up something of value to students -most, of whom will not go on to be artists.

    Having said this, I don’t take as fact that what is most interesting is in some nebulous middle ground between the artworld and entertainment- which probably has something to do with my defintion of what the artworld is.

    I don’t think that high art should neccessarily pander to anything or anyone. Usually, even when say, a particular painting is well known -it functions best on a one to one basis with each particular viewer -and is, a particular, aesthetic experience -not made, nor intended for the masses. But rather, for the unique individual in all of his or her concrete inimitability and apprehension.

    These fragments I have shored against my ruins
    Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

    What makes painting interesting -is that due to its simplicity of means -ie a person and a mark making implement, along with something to do it on, within this context -all is possible -which is why paintings have traditionally served as blueprints to various modes of expression, ideation, sensuality, a plastic invention involving the basic stuff and the esoteric stuff that makes us human.

    That art schools have been involved in a revenge of the Philistines type mode attack on the aristocracy of high art is clearly in evidence when we look at for instance the pack of obsequious plutocrats ensconsed in educational institutions around Chicago -far more interested in power than with anything aesthetic- that since the beginning of the patronage of high art in the mid 20th century by institutionalized education, -it is clear that rather than creating focus as far from human habitation as imaginatively possible -with the idea that those who strive to understand their cultural context will get the fragments shored against their ruins –that the work will fit them commensurate with their ability to comprehend, that approaching great art should make us as individuals, greater, that art has to do with things like, clarification of conciousness, rather than this, we have an ‘art’ whose concerns are more about addressing pop culture -being ‘socially relevant’……….considering the ‘artworld in terms of social event.

    here is a question: what, is the difference between art, and entertainment? Or, what, is the relationship of craft to entertainment -as opposed to say, technique of expression?

  33. -perhaps where you and I Maura might find something to agree upon -is, that much of what was truly profound and definitive about 20th century art has been for the most part jettisoned in the high art world by the consensoriat/institutional art model -in favor of an art world with Duchamp as today’s Adolphie Bouguereau -buttressed up and sold via some very muddled understanding of certain french philosophers – all accompanied by visually and technically (at least in painting) a for the most part not particularly bold or engaging time…..

    Its interesting how in furniture design, in architecture – the basic premises of modernism are being pushed ever further -are forward looking, with results that are tangibly beyond dispute ……go down to River North -the most interesting design you will come across is going to be at Luminare -not in some art gallery……look at some of the buildings being done today..are the Richard Serra’s at Bilbao as successful as the building itself?..

    -but you can’t blame this on painting, or sculpture -the simple fact is that the consensoriat is no smarter when they condescend to acknowledge painting, than when they misconstrue Baudrillard- and unfortunately, they simply have more power -or simply have power in these disciplines and not in either design or architecture.

    the footprint of what is institutional is almost certainly about resentment and revenge upon what is talented, what is visual and often what is exceptional, and is perhaps what is really in need of discussion. What is the impact of educational/institutional patronage of high art? What is the impact upon art?……its all quite interesting…

  34. Yeah, Maura, I do think Robbins does some good “art” himself and his “independent imagination” is a great notion, but it also worries my that the thought process if carried further logically could lead to an extremely middlebrow “revenge of the Philistines” as the Shark notes. And middlebrow ALWAYS sucks. Here is an extended citation from an important essay by theorist leslie Fiedler, titled “The Middle Against Both Ends.” I can’t find it in internet right now, so maybe I’ll post it to Sharkforum sometime in full, as it deserves wider application and study in the artworld (esp. by those “bogus” pop culture thieves — I mean “appropriationists”, oops). It is available a wonderful, historically organized collection of essays ed. by David Lodge titled 20th Century Literary Criticism, A Reader (Longman). Fiedler was a prolific writer on a wide range of subjects and an important literary critic/theorist, best known for Love an Death in the American Novel. I had the joy of a short exchange of correspondence with him before his recent death (at the age of about 88). (This essay, has been referred to on internet, yet been radically falsely understood in the places I saw the reference— it is in fact an all-out attack on “middlebrows,” not a support of them as some seem to think from misreading the title, without having read the piece, seemingly.) I’ll present just a few of its long list of rich insights here (it was written in the 50s, so some terminology is dated).

    Fiedler points out that many artists and writers read both Batman and James Joyce, while those who attack the first have also never read the later, and in fact generally promote a cultural education at about the level of Readers’ Digest at best. As he states of one book attacking popular culture, which could stand in for most attacks, “it propounds the preposterous theory that the whole of “popular literature” is a conspiracy on the part of the “plutos” to corrupt an innocent American people. Such easy melodrama can only satisfy someone prepared to believe, as Mr. Wagner apparently does, that the young girls of Harlem are being led astray by the double-entendres of blues records! ”

    “In none of the books on comics I have looked into, and in none of the reports of ladies’ clubs, protests of legislators, or statements of moral indignation by pastors, have I come on any real attempt to understand comic books: to define the form, midway between icon and story…”

    “The most fascinating and suspicious aspect of the opposition … is its unanimity …. What they have in common is, I am afraid, the sense that they are all, according to their rights, righteous. And their protests represent only one more example … of the notorious failure of righteousness in matters involving art. What do the righteous really have against comic books? In some parts of the world, simply the fact that they are American is sufficient, and certain homegrown self-contemnors follow this line even in the United States. But it is really a minor argument, lent a certain temporary importance by passing political exigencies. To declare oneself against ‘the Americanization of culture’ is meaningless unless one is set resolutely against industrialization and mass education.”

    More to the point is the attack on mass culture for its betrayal of literacy itself. What should set us on guard in this case is that it is not the fully literate, the intellectuals and serious writers, who lead the attack, but the insecure semiliterate. In America, there is something a little absurd about the indignant delegation from the Parent and Teachers Association (themselves clutching the latest issue of Life) crying out in defence of literature. Asked for suggestions, such critics are likely to propose the Readers’ Digest as required reading…. In other countries, corresponding counterparts are not hard to find.”

    “About these charges [of violence and son on] that the enlightened censors deplore. First, by and large, they are true. Second, they are also true about the most serious art…. You cannot condemn Superman for the exploitation of violence and praise the existentialist-sadist-shockers of [fine literature such as Paul Bowles in the next breath).”

    “Historically, one can make quite a convincing case to prove that our highest and lowest arts come from a common antibourgeois source … that they challenge the more genteel versions of ‘good taste’. By more ‘advanced’ consultants, the taboo (against any violence] is advanced further towards absurdity: no bloodsoaked Grimm, no terrifying [fairy tales], no childhood verses about cradles that fall…everywhere the fear of fear is endemic… those who have most ardently desired to end warfare and personal cruelty in the world around them,… are the most frustrated by their persistence, conspire to stamp out violence on the nursery bookshelf [or in superheroes]. This same fear of the instinctual, and the dark, this denial of death and guilt by the enlightened genteel, motivates their distrust of serious literature too. …In the name of a literature of the middle ground which finds its fictitious vision of a kindly and congenial world attacked from above and below. ”

    “The failure of the petty-bourgeoisie [as exemplified in professionals such as teachers and middle-class lawyers] to achieve cultural hegemony threatens their dream of a truly classless society;… they see, in the persistence of a high art and a low art on either side their average own….The middlebrow reacts with equal fury to an art that baffles his understanding and to one which refuses to aspire to his level. The fear of the vulgar is the obverse of the fear of excellence, and both are aspects of the fear of difference: symptoms of the drive for conformity on the level of the timid, sentimental, mindless-bodiless genteel.”

    Loooongggg, but important here I think.

  35. Mike Kaysen and Brad Farwell — again two extremely well-thought-out and stimulating comments. helped me clarify my own attraction/repulsion to Robbins notions. Are you two both artists? If so, where can I see work on-line? Do you write elsewhere? Contact me through my email at my website sometime please! (www.markstaffbrandl.com/) Oh, yeah, and come see me in my booth at the Artist Project part of the Chicago Art Fair in April if you are going —- also I’ll be staying at The Shark’s, so you can catch me there. I’d love to meet you.

  36. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………………..go play!

    k

  37. im sorry. random outburst directed towards nobody in particular.
    i have to start printing these out to read them.

    k

  38. Yeah, you should! I warned you that it would be long (but you are right it is too long), but it is very very insightful, or in German (since I can’t resist due to your name), Es ist SEHR aufschlussreich. Also, wach auf! Dass ist SEHR wichtig! (I’m very sorry. Or — Es tut mir SEHR leid. I can’t stoppppppp.)

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