Forget the Olympics. What the Second City Really Needs is First-Class Art News

October 5, 2009 · Print This Article

Last week was, by many accounts, a humiliating one for Chicago, ending as it did with the announcement that the Second City had been knocked out of contention for the much-coveted 2016 Olympics–in the first round, no less. Given that Chicago had already beaten out numerous other international contenders to reach the final four in the first place I don’t  exactly see why it’s considered such a crushing embarrassment to have come in fourth but, whatever…I  have no dog in that fight. It’s probably just one of the many “Chicago things” that I’ll never fully understand. As an art person, however, I’m far more interested in looking at the blows to civic pride that were delivered earlier last week in the wake of the Tribune’s story on the positive public reaction to J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s outdoor sculpture “God Bless America.” Yeah, you know the one. This one:

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Written by Trib reporter Steve Johnson, the article was framed by this headline: “What does popularity of God Bless America sculpture say about public art in Chicago?” This, I think, was precisely the wrong boldfaced header to attach to an article about a sculpture that has been borrowed from the Sculpture Foundation and is not, in fact, meant to be a permanent part of the city’s landscape of public art. Although the Trib’s article does make passing reference to this fact, the headline seems to imply that “God Bless America” somehow holds similar status as the Picasso, Calder or Kapoor pieces do in the city’s world-class lineup of public art.

For better or worse, Steve Johnson’s story gained a degree of national attention, not as much from Chicago’s art crowd as from arts writers elsewhere in the country. On September 30th the L.A. Times’ chief art critic Christopher Knight linked to the Trib article on his Twitter feed with the comment: “Is J. Seward Johnson trying to be America’s Worst Artist?” A few days later Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City wrote a post titled “Bad Public Art Finds Audience in Chicago” containing a point-by-point takedown of Steve Johnson’s main arguments, which he set up as follows:

“Critics can wag fingers at it — and some do — but God Bless America meets some of the fundamental tests of public art. It is noticed, it is appreciated, and, in many cases, it provokes reflection on what makes an art work original.”

I drove by “God Bless America” last week. Parking is monstrous downtown so I couldn’t stop to get out and walk around it, which is too bad, since public art–like all art–needs to be experienced in situ in order to be fully understood and appreciated. Nevertheless, I can’t offer any viable counter-arguments to Knight and Paddy Johnson’s assertions that the sculpture makes for some pretty bad art. Sure, I could attempt some sort of cultural studies-style analysis of how people actually relate and respond to the sculpture in real life (a more populist form of which Steve Johnson was basically attempting in his Trib article) but my heart wouldn’t be in it. Knight’s snarky question was a valid one, and Art Fag City’s post was in keeping with its editor’s ongoing deconstructions of the more egregious myths about contemporary art and its reception–the Trib’s article, sadly, providing a prime example of just the sort of superficial arguments that so often inform those myths.

As far as I know the Trib’s Steve Johnson isn’t an art critic or an arts journalist. He’s a thoughtful and smart culture reporter who was interested in the popular reaction to a popular work of public art in his city. My beef certainly isn’t with Mr. Johnson or with the quality of the article he wrote. It’s with the fact that Johnson’s was one of the rare  “news” stories about art in Chicago that the Trib has published over the past few months. And I straight-up disagree with that particular choice of story.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though I’m not saying anything everyone who lives here doesn’t already know: it’s a damn shame that a city of the size and cultural prominence of Chicago does not have a national voice for its art scene, a newspaper art critic of the stature of Christopher Knight who could have written about Seward’s sculpture from a critically informed art historical viewpoint as well as the more straightforwardly populist one put forth by the Trib (or, better yet, would have chosen not to make this into a story at all, given that there’s nothing particularly timely or newsworthy about it).

This is not a city of people who know nothing about art and architecture, nor do Chicagoans evince a “fear” of the rigorous discourse that often accompanies discussion about those subjects. So why does the Trib cover art as if it its readership needs hand-holding and spoon-feeding via articles that essentially give us permission to look no further than a work of public art’s most spectacular effects?

Chicago needs at least one real art journalist with a national platform to represent this city to the rest of the country, if not the world (and by “art” here I mean fine art, not theater, dance, music, etc.  if that’s not already obvious). Clearly, other arts writers across the country are still paying attention to the Trib’s art coverage and looking specifically (and exclusively) to that paper for news and insight into Chicago’s art scene and its art public. The problem is that the Trib is relying on reporters who have no in-depth art backgrounds to cover art news in this city–no dog in the fight, as it were–and frankly I find the effects of this to be somewhat humiliating.

Chicago needs a high-profile newspaper writer who is both a critic of and an advocate for the city’s art; not a booster but a person who will draw attention to bad decisions and art world folly while at the same time placing new developments within a larger cultural and historical context. Chicago’s art bloggers simply aren’t able to bear that responsibility, not because of a lack of talent but from a serious lack of time, money and resources. My advice to the Trib: get freelancer Lori Waxman on staff and make her a reporter or something–I don’t fucking care, but Chicago needs to cultivate its own Chrisopher Knight some way or another. Until we do, we risk letting writers from other cities steer the discourse on Chicago art. We owe it to ourselves not to let that continue.

49 Responses to “Forget the Olympics. What the Second City Really Needs is First-Class Art News”

  1. two thumbs up Claudine!

  2. Jason Foumberg Says:

    The Trib thinks it will win back the crowds by lowering their standards. A headline on their site’s front page today: Show Us Your Tattoos!

    There’s other/better writing on art in Chicago’s alternate venues. Stop looking to the Trib for answers. Isn’t that the gift of new journalism, that big media isn’t the best/most reliable source? We’ve got to re-trace the path we take when looking for arts journalism. Going straight to the Trib is, well, just lazy. (not directed at you Claudine, but national commentators)

  3. Warning. Superficial argument ahead.

    AFC’s post was hardly a “takedown,” more like a differing opinion. Paddy is smug, snarky, and elitist, in other words a typical art blogger. Note that my merely asserting that doesn’t make it so any more than her asserting something is “bad art” makes it true.

    What do we gain by calling something bad art? Especially if non-art people like it? Paddy hyperbolically mentions “cigarettes and candy” not being good for you, but please provide plausible evidence of the harm so-called bad art inflicts – actual harm comparable to diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, etc.

    One person’s “spectacle” is another’s “value.” There are plenty of folks who haven’t been *trained* to see Jeff Koons’s puppies or his Macy’s balloon as any less spectacular or insubstantial as Johnson’s piece. In fact the question of “value” in an art critical sense is mostly irrelevant to the entire discussion, except of course, for the small group of people who like those sorts of conversations. Why is the Tribune obliged to have paid staff to address them?

    I’m not sure I even understand what the complaint is. Not all art requires a “rigorous discourse” does it? Does this piece? If not, why lament the coverage?
    It’s “not newsworthy?” Here again, I have to wonder – says who?

    The complaint I hear all too often is that ordinary/non-art people don’t “properly” understand art. Art world folks seem to think that a critic can help educate the public and “draw attention to bad decisions and art world folly while at the same time placing new developments within a larger cultural and historical context.” Surely there is truth to this, but it seems to me that the situation is backwards – rather than try to have ordinary folks understand the art world, the art world should try to understand ordinary/non-art world people. Why is it exactly that people like this sculpture or the singing cowboy? Is using the buzzword “spectacle” the best answer? Why not go out and actually ask people – the ones whose reaction is being dismissed as being wasted on “bad art?” I suspect (and will gladly wager with someone)that the word spectacle would rarely be used.

    Let me leave you with Carl Wilson:
    “The kind of contempt that’s mobilized by ‘cool’ taste is inimical…to an aesthetics that might support a good public life.” Enough with the snarky my tastes are more informed/sophisticated/smarter/cooler/complexly articulated/ stuff. How about a little more humility, a little more curiosity about what makes others like the things they like? Or quoting Wilson again (regarding music) ““I would be relieved to have fewer debates over who is right or wrong about music, and more that go, “Wow, you hate all the music I like and I hate all the music you like. What might we make of that?”

  4. Lee Kelly says it all ” a photo op [period].”
    It’s like Navy Pier not the Aon building.

    I think the fundamental tests of public art are wrong. It includes “originality” as the 3rd test. This work is totally un-original it’s totally familiar (american gothic) and ubiquitous that’s why it’s popular. Think of artists that try and make work that’s popular! Wrong from the start. Popularity is something (that if anything) should ensue.

    “By many estimates it’s the top public art attraction…”
    who makes those estimates? And it’s location is super great! The foot traffic over there is very high – with tons of tourists – and if you ask the man on the street “what did you think of the grant wood sculpture?” they’re gonna answer “cool” without having thought too much about it. The stickers on the suitcase being controversial is a huge stretch. Isn’t it simply about the world is flat blah blah? Politics are frowned upon in public art and very hard to include on the front end.

    It sucks that they’re putting us down out in LA. It’s a real cheap shot from them and artfagcity. I think most of us dont take the sculpture’s presence too seriously.

  5. Okay, okay, all valid points and AFC tends to be snark heavy, and the lord knows that I’m not prone to taking this tooooooo seriously, but c’mon, the Grant Wood sculptural re-imagining is pretty damn ugly. I think it functions best as a monument to the tacky.It’s not kitschy enough to be funny, it certainly isn’t terribly aesthetic, it’s just bad. It hits me the same way the City putting a Bear’s helmet on the Daley Center Picasso. I think it is supposed to be fun, so maybe the problem is mine ultimately, that I’m not getting the joke, and am just turning into an old crank.

  6. Claudine Ise Says:

    Hi Jason: you are absolutely right that there is a lot of great arts writing in Chicago that provides much of what the Trib doesn’t (except, I would argue, actual news not just reviews) – and I did not mean to imply otherwise or completely dismiss those other forms, I read them myself in order to try and grasp what makes Chicago art “tick.” It’s just that the Trib hasn’t died yet – it still has writers covering art news sporadically so why not hire people who are have a little more history with art in Chicago? But I concede your larger point about the future of media not lying with newsprint, much as it pains me to say so (and yes, I know I am a dinosaur!).

    Which leads me to Randall’s comments. Randall, you and I disagree on a number of points. Such as this, when you say:

    “but it seems to me that the situation is backwards – rather than try to have ordinary folks understand the art world, the art world should try to understand ordinary/non-art world people. Why is it exactly that people like this sculpture or the singing cowboy? Is using the buzzword “spectacle” the best answer? Why not go out and actually ask people – the ones whose reaction is being dismissed as being wasted on “bad art?” I suspect (and will gladly wager with someone)that the word spectacle would rarely be used.”

    I’m seeing two arguments here, the first having to do with my use of a so-called ‘buzzword,’ spectacle – I used the phrase ‘spectacular effects’ to mean just that – a sculpture whose main draw seems to be its photo op, gee-whiz value and the somewhat cynical assumption on the part of those who put it there that the piece would draw tourists, etc. for this very reason. Spectacle. No sinister Guy DeBord references intended, if that’s what you were implying. And also frankly — why wouldn’t some of “those whose reactions are being dismissed” use the word “spectacle” in their attempts to describe why they like Johnson’s sculpture (or conversely why they dislike it)? Since when did “spectacle” become such an intimidating word to use?

    Second, your point implies that people who work in or otherwise engage with the arts (i.e. the ‘art world’) are somehow fundamentally cut off from the ideas, opinions and feedback of those other, so-called “ordinary/nonart world people.” Not true — what a huge assumption to make on your part and an incorrect one at that!

    Not everyone is so deeply entrenched in “the art scene” –whatever the heck it actually consists of – art scenes are just people after all, and especially in Chicago it’s just the people you know and talk to stuff about — so I really doubt that any of those who consider themselves part of “an art world” truly have no sense of what people who *don’t* work in the art/culture field think about art. And for that matter, why should you assume the opinions and curiosities of non art world folks would be so radically different?

    And no, I don’t need to go out and talk to “ordinary folks” to get their perspective on current art because those ordinary folks consist of my friends, family, my super-smart yet not of the art world husband – all whom are curious, culturally savvy, politically aware people who like to argue just like anyone else and are interested in Chicago art and architecture and aren’t afraid to express opinions about it even tho they’re not experts. They’re not only capable of approaching the art they encounter in museums and on the streets with a probing, curious and critical viewpoint – they do it automatically just like so-called art world people do. You’re the one making all these kinds of distinctions, not me.

    And I also feel compelled to add – you are speaking from the position of someone who is way way more entrenched in “the art scene” in this city than you admit – certainly more so than I am. Most of my conversations about art take place with the “non art-world people” who it should go without saying are intelligent and culturally aware and eager to learn about and discuss their opinions about art and often do have a basic grounding in art history — they’re not artists, curators or art writers they are lawyers and p.r. people and social workers and YES even stay at home moms (gasp!) of which I am one (so please do not imply that I am affecting a superior tone here). The audience I imagine wants more from the Tribune’s art section are these same “ordinary non-art world” people. That’s why the Trib still matters to me.

    For me, the Trib (and other newspapers) is one of the few publications that has the same appeal as that Gourmet magazine in the doctor’s waiting room we talked about before – it can be read by people who work in the arts and by those who don’t, but are still really interested. I’m just saying let’s have more articles that appeal to those want to dig deeper into Chicago’s art scene and want more consistent art coverage of it along with the gee-whiz articles about sculptures like “God Bless America.” (Not that New City isn’t already doing that every week; but that’s a different subject).

    Edited to add: sorry I forgot to say thank you for your comments in particular Randall – it is great to read you here and although our worldviews could not be more different and I know I’m not going to convince you of anything nor do I want to – it is great to have you part of the discussion!

  7. Great piece of writing/observations complete with the courage to say what you think Claudine, as much as I have taken issue with your writing when it comes to very specifically, painting, I think this is very important.

    “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though I’m not saying anything everyone who lives here doesn’t already know: it’s a damn shame that a city of the size and cultural prominence of Chicago does not have a national voice for its art scene”‘

    —- great stuff- thank you for writing it, as it needs to be said…..and as I have said before is particular to the art scene here: Chicago may have as Jason suggests plenty of ‘other, better’ art writers though I certainly think that the ‘better’ claim is probably overstating the case/dubious-do any of them that have the clout and national presence of a Chris Jones -Tribune Theater Critic (didn’t notice him getting the ax!) or Hedy Weiss -Theater at the Sun Times?……..not a rats chance in hell – there isn’t anyone here even remotely comparable- this is a really interesting discussion Claudine-good for you…. unpack this: why is it so that its a great thing to be a Chicago actor supported by the best, most powerful critics in the land, and anathema to be a Chicago artist with any written support coming from people unknown beyond the Chicago city limits? How has it come to be like this? Evey artist here in Chicago could and should be asking this question. Thank you Claudine for asking it for them-

    Is it the Tribs fault, the fault of the art community here? I get that its a perfect storm of a whole lot of factors – a culture of marginalization.

  8. Jason Foumberg Says:

    The implication of Randall’s comment is interesting–the piece gets the sort of writing it deserves. But if you see a lot of art, and read a lot about art, it is not the sort of object or issue that needs re-hashing every six months. If the public is reading about art at all, I hope they want to learn about something new, anyway.

    Claudine, For good local art news I suggest Deanna Isaacs in the Reader.

    Shark, The alternatives may not be consistent (in quality or in schedule) but I hope by now readers have expanded their purview. Judging the city’s critical output by looking to the Trib alone, and declaring criticism a failure, is a failure on the part of the reader.

  9. Jason -we don’t disagree…the problem is however one of national presence: how do we accomplish this, giving our scene here real clout, improving the lives of the artists here to the point that it affects the quality of work being produced here/the desire to stay in Chicago…I think the real issue isn’t sadly enough one of quality, but rather one of national/international presence -we have no art critic here that can claim this.

    (as far as the Tribune goes -isnt Artners legacy one of only criticizing and never cultivating? Isnt this where he differs from a Knight or an Albright (Bay Area) or a Saltz -or, from the theater critics I mention who are complicit in our having a world class theater scene?

    I like Deanna Isaacs work at the Reader as well -she is quite excellent.

  10. “the first having to do with my use of a so-called ‘buzzword,’ spectacle – I used the phrase ’spectacular effects’ to mean just that”

    Yes you were implicated in my comment, but the buzzword comment was directed more at the AFC post that you seemed to endorse – perhaps only in spirit and not in tone. And you’re right, spectacle is hardly an intimidating word, but I stand by my speculation that few would cite it as why they like the sculpture. I’ll gladly go down to the site and talk to an agreed upon number of people to count how many times the word is used.

    “Second, your point implies that people who work in or otherwise engage with the arts (i.e. the ‘art world’) are somehow fundamentally cut off from the ideas, opinions and feedback of those other, so-called “ordinary/nonart world people.” Not true — what a huge assumption to make on your part and an incorrect one at that!”

    Of course art people interact with non-art people. I never meant to imply otherwise. When looking at this coverage, and the negative reaction, it is clear that either huge assumptions are being made about the subjective experience of others or that experience was being dismissed as “bad taste.” Your implication was that if someone “qualified” had the opportunity to write about the piece they either wouldn’t (the mere fact that people *actually* like it not being newsworthy) or they might be able to contextualize it (explain why it is in bad taste or superficial to “qualified” tastes).

    “And no, I don’t need to go out and talk to “ordinary folks” to get their perspective on current art because those ordinary folks consist of my friends, family, my super-smart yet not of the art world husband…”

    To be fair I was talking about the people who like the sculpture, the people the Trib article was referring to.

    “And I also feel compelled to add – you are speaking from the position of someone who is way way more entrenched in “the art scene” in this city than you admit – certainly more so than I am.”

    I don’t want to get in a tit for tat thing here but, “entrenched” is a bit strong. More importantly, ask any of the people I’m “entrenched” with how often I talk about art with them. Art is hardly the basis of the relationship. And don’t forget that I literally spend half of my life living with non-art people from all over the country. Granted they don’t live in Chicago, so maybe the point is moot, but they’re not clamoring for more or better arts coverage. In fact, the only people I ever hear clamoring for it are art people. And to this question of yours, “And for that matter, why should you assume the opinions and curiosities of non art world folks would be so radically different?” As above, it is simply my experience. Maybe this is a class and/or urban/rural thing. My small town parents certainly don’t approach art with a “probing” or “critical” mindset and neither do the guys on the boat. It doesn’t occur to them that either of those things have anything to do with art. When it comes to art, they like pretty things. They have “bad taste.”

    The fact that your urban “culturally savvy” lawyers, p.r. people, social workers, and stay at home moms do bring those qualities to their art viewing experience doesn’t do much for me because that just means they already share some basic assumptions with you and the capital A art world about what features art should have. For them, you’re probably right that a Christopher Knight sort of critic might serve their interests.

    My central question was never addressed – what do we gain by calling something bad art? And to follow up – What does “art” gain by dismissing the taste of people like my parents? Rather than condescendingly attempting to educate them, isn’t it humbler to assume you and I, might have something to learn from them and their taste for “pretty bad art?”

    PS For the record, I did not find your post to be snarky, but you did cite two rather snarky sources for your feelings of embarrassment at the Trib’s coverage. If anyone should be embarrassed it should be Johnson and Knight.

    PPS Here’s hoping this doesn’t affect Halloween – wink!

    PPPS This is too much work. Hopefully nothing egregiously provocative will be said so that I can avoid responding any further…

  11. “what do we gain by calling something bad art?”

    How about some perspective?

    : there is a difference between Beethovens Violin Concerto and say, a Brittany Spears number. Just as there is the same amount of distance between say de Koonings Door To The River or a Messionier and some piece of shlock bought at a starving artists sale…..

    Art is by definition not a matter of taste -so what has that to do with anything…..do we listen to Beethoven because its in good taste?…..is the only difference between Eroica or Egmont and some piece of pop shlock a matter of taste?

    What is art? What is craft? How do they differ? Could this possibly help you with your question…

    What anthropologists look for when searching out the origins of modern man, is the presence of art…..I would suggest you educate and articulate your definition of what that is.

  12. Deanna Isaacs is stupendously dreadful. She is as nonconstructive as a human can be. She inflames instead of reports. She is not interested in the truth, but solely cares about aggrandizing her insignificant self. Every word she writes is an insult to intelligent caring discourse. She seeks to offend – and succeeds. A curse on her coal-hardened soul!

  13. Thanks for the suggestion Shark. Now here’s some suggested reading for you that might “educate” you regarding your, to put it charitably, questionable assertion, “Art is by definition not a matter of taste…”

    P. Bourdieu – Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
    AND The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field

    Carl Wilson – Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

    David Halle – Inside Culture: Art and Class in the American Home

    Lawrence Levine – Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America

    Howard Becker – Art Worlds

    Herbert Gans – Popular Culture And High Culture: An Analysis And Evaluation Of Taste

    Peter Swirski – From Lowbrow to Nobrow

    As to the perspective offered by calling something bad art, there is no doubt that *a* perspective is offered. The question is *whose* perspective? And what does that perspective bring to public life and what does it exclude?

    You are also tautologically correct that there is a difference between Britney (not Brittany) Spears and Beethoven. Unfortunately, yes, I would argue that it is largely a matter of taste (and power). Although we might disagree on what might replace it/them, isn’t the rise of the “consensus curator” precisely about the imposition of and/or blind adherence to, a certain taste, a taste saturated by power and the pursuit of cultural and social capital? Obviously you still believe in art’s autonomy and obviously I don’t which may be the crux of the disagreement…To you perhaps, not believing in art’s autonomy means not having any conception of art whatsoever?

    You’re right, the difference between art and craft is important here, especially how the two notions are situated hierarchically within and across different social classes and cultures (if the distinction exists at all in some of them). The great variability between cultures appears to be an argument for the inextricable link between art and taste. This is doubly so if you look at how popular/low works morph into “high/fine” ones over historical stretches (See Levine’s (above) analysis of Opera’s transition to “high art” in the 19th century U.S.).

    Finally regarding anthropology and art as it pertains to this discussion, James Clifford’s The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art is crucial. See especially the essay “On Collecting Art and Culture” which address the West’s appropriation (while “searching out the origins of modern man” as you put it) of artifacts from other cultures and contextualizing them as art. This diagram of his gives a quick and dirty guide to the fluidity of the categories as he sees them:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_lLvPKqSEc9I/RwaJ6t38i2I/AAAAAAAAAuk/hbl0TjtCmMk/s400/clifford.jpg

    Thanks for actually addressing my question, albeit in a snarky, err, sharky way.

  14. Adamantly Agreed A. Reader.

    “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore…” – Steve Jobs

  15. “PPPS This is too much work. Hopefully nothing egregiously provocative will be said so that I can avoid responding any further…”

    my sentiments precisely Randall -just what I need to go along with my burgeoning careers as, painter, single parent, Shark and war junkie -now, you are suggesting I take up sociology…tell you what, how are you with kid watching? I would love to sit back and read up on ‘taste’ if you can spell me for a moment…it might actually be a revelation for you -given your interest in lowbrow culture, just how up to speed are you on The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

    Perhaps we should trade lite reading lists -for you:

    E.B. Sledge With The Old Breed At Peleliu and Okinawa

    Barret Tillman Clash Of The Carriers

    Jonathan Parshall, Anthony Tully Shattered Sword a historical analysis of the Battle At Midway from the Japanese perspective

    …war is so much more interesting to read up on than the fluidity of taste and culture -as we humans are so much more alive and interesting when we are trying to kill each other off than attempting to coexist peacefully….

    “Although we might disagree on what might replace it/them, isn’t the rise of the “consensus curator” precisely about the imposition of and/or blind adherence to, a certain taste, a taste saturated by power and the pursuit of cultural and social capital? Obviously you still believe in art’s autonomy and obviously I don’t which may be the crux of the disagreement”

    NICE! Thank you for this- a fabulous piece of argument -can I entice you to come on sharkforum -which we are relaunching at the end of this week and further unpack these notions? Yes, we do disagree on the issue of arts autonomy -to an extent -but where I believe we are finding common ground is in the notion of its inherent fluidity in terms of cultural hierarchy….probably a much better more interesting comparison for me to have made with someone like Beethoven rather than Spears, would have been someone like Jeff Beck- where we can discuss the evolution of a medium from something relatively ‘lowbrow’ into something with more, greater, more highly skilled ‘work’ happening on both craft and aesthetic fronts, both with the artist, the art and the audience. …the outcome being a far more advanced and profound imaginary experience -not an experience with better taste, unless you consider ‘taste’ a desire to esthetically dine on something with more meat on its bones, a more distant brink of vision…

    As for some of your references -Herbert Gans…he is interesting -perhaps even beyond levels of education in determining aesthetic predilections -would be ‘kind’ of education…where I think we may find commonality once more -and perhaps further dispute also is in the idea of workliness, as opposed to over refinement…I have been recently advocating the ‘how’ over the ‘that’ -from ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing how’ -which actually is my argument with Claudine when it comes to discussing contemporary painting -actually any kind of painting…for me two distinctions I would immediately draw between a Spears and a Beethoven would be, the hierarchy between craft and art (separate from level of craft) in their respective work: I’m thinking that actually craft dominates Spears work with its predetermined goals- where with Beethoven we see greater expression of more complex, ideational and imagination constructs coming into play- with far less static, predetermined goals showing up…

    ITS BETTER WORK! In scope, ambition, intentionality at the same time,…Levine is…. right when he argues concerning the usurping of Shakespeare…its not unlike another artist of the ordinary -no matter how however misunderstood -de Kooning! And its actually interesting how this decidedly lower-class artist in the end, ruled the day when it comes to 20th century American Art- however misunderstood he is by the lower classes -if known at all! It is indeed a paradox.

    So back to autonomy -yes, I do believe this and yet my idea of elitism in its perception is not ultimately one of class but one of engagement hence desire-its unfair to compare the perceptions of the disinterested with those involved- no matter what social strata they arrive from, at the same time, there is a certain cognitive dissonance happening with where I’m coming from, in that while I argue for a greater idea of art, I’m also (as I believe you agree) uncertain that ‘highbrow culture can deliver the goods-

    And thanks for the correction on Britney -I couldn’t have gone another day misspelling this icons hallowed name….

  16. ps -Christopher Knight -talk about a pricey, overpaid puffball….we do need some writers here of greater national/international prominence -but after waiting all of this time, I’m willing to hold out a while longer in the hope for something more substantial-

  17. its not unlike another artist of the ordinary -no matter how however misunderstood -de Kooning! And its actually interesting how this decidedly lower-class artist in the end, ruled the day when it comes to 20th century American Art- however misunderstood he is by the lower classes -if known at all!…..HOW COULD I FAIL! to mention how he also completely sails over the heads of the intelligentsia as well? Perhaps even more profoundly…… -its that ‘how’-‘that’ simulacrum-

  18. Paul Germanos Says:

    Maybe, the only thing worse than the absence of critical dialogue–would be the presence of critical monologue.

    The model in which Foumberg [Jason, above] participates at NewCity distributes “power” among the many writers who contribute reviews to said blog. That “democratic” structure has merit of affording the reader multiple points of view; too, it affords artists showing in Chicago great opportunity for exposure.

    Contra Foumberg/NewCity, the model proposed by Ise [article above] would invest one person at one institution with authority to make pronouncements on behalf of the City as a whole.

    If realized, the problem with the “single critic” model would quickly become apparent: One’s reputation would depend, wholly, upon one’s relationship with the person of the critic.

    It seems likely that a single voice speaking from a high place would have the authority that Ise notes as wanting in Chicago. Too, criticism might well be expected to be more consistent, and deep, if it had only one author.

    It would be good “for the community” to be honest, and open, about the cost and benefit of what has been written.

    Many people–Michelle Grabner, James Yood, Dennis Adrian, Allan Artner, Derek Guthrie, et al–are, or were, residents, and scholarly chroniclers of the artwork made and exhibited in the Chicago Metro area.

    That only one critic–Lori Waxman–is named in the article above has the effect of causing the thing to appear to be partisan advocacy. Waxman is young; and Ise’s own tenure in Chicago can be measured in days.

    Missing in all of this is the art. Is the “problem” with the observer of the phenomena–or with the phenomena observed? Would anyone care to suggest that more and better might be done for and with public sculpture in Chicago? If there is blame to be placed, should it be laid at Paddy’s feet–or at the feet of those people who chose to fund Johnson’s work? Is there even a chance that Johnson intended to mock the attachment of “the common people” to such iconography?

    More-and-more it feels as though an effort is made to foist an artwork, or a critic, or a building, on the public. And when good questions are asked–by people like Deanna Isaacs–ad hominem attacks are the only response.

  19. “And thanks for the correction on Britney -I couldn’t have gone another day misspelling this icons hallowed name…”

    I do what I can Shark…

    I am going to skip my disagreement with what you’ve said and focus on our common ground as I’m one of those boring types “attempting to coexist peacefully” with others.

    “I have been recently advocating the ‘how’ over the ‘that’ -from ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing how’”

    Yes tacit and explicit knowledge. I have a great deal of interest in this. I hate to be rattling off even more reading, but Polanyi’s Tacit Dimension is central here. I even wrote some sloppy blog posts on the notion:

    http://leisurearts.blogspot.com/2006/03/mathematics-practice-abstract-systems.html

    http://leisurearts.blogspot.com/2006/04/wildenbateson-tacitexplicit.html

    http://leisurearts.blogspot.com/2006/04/takeuchinonaka-social-ecology-of-art.html

    My thinking has changed a bit as I unfortunately gave explicit knowledge a bit of the upper hand in art practice which you will immediately see is a mistake. I have become far more pragmatic (as in the actual philosophic tradition) since initially writing those posts so let me throw out some “chum” from that school for you that we can also agree on (especially with reagrd to your de Kooning comment):

    Any idea that ignores the necessary role of intelligence in the
    production of works of art is based upon identification of thinking
    with use of one special kind of material, verbal signs and words. To
    think effectively in terms of relations of qualities is as severe a
    demand upon thought as to think in terms of symbols, verbal and
    mathematical. Indeed, since words are easily manipulated in mechanical
    ways, the production of a work of genuine art probably demands more
    intelligence than does most of the so-called thinking that goes on
    among those who pride themselves on being ‘intellectuals.’
    — John Dewey, Art as Experience

  20. Paul –

    “Maybe, the only thing worse than the absence of critical dialogue–would be the presence of critical monologue.”

    Amen. I would add to that – dialogue that is *only* critical and only takes place among “scholarly chroniclers” and insists that being “deep” is of utmost value, then that too is a problem.

    I would take more time to address your thoughtful comments, but I have to go make jambalaya for my crew (jobs – ugh!)

  21. Randall, Paul, this is a really good conversation at the moment -and thanks Randall for burning up my only free 90 minutes of the day trying to get an adequate, coherent response up-

    actually the more I consider this conversation the more I must say, we are in profound agreement -though I think you are probably far more one of those, ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison, everything is subjective and in the end equalizes out into a kind of beige mush egalitarian’ than I could EVER be-

    Paul your point about Jason/New City is good, the problem is that it is local…..how do we change that?…I also agree that putting that power in one persons hands seems regressive and not particularly efficient or even desirable given the new reality of the internet…what if we created some kind of cyber room for high caliber Chicago criticism to exist? A place separate from our respective sites..a kind of clearing house…perhaps its time to discuss this -a meeting with all of the people actively participating- a strategy session -my studio is certainly available for a meeting of that sort.

  22. Claudine Ise Says:

    Serves me right for waiting till the end of the day to check this thread. Now, like Shark, I have only minutes before I must resume my child care duties and so there’s no way I can respond to everything said but I seriously almost have tears in my eyes about how cool you all are being and how great this discussion is.

    Randall: I meant what I (and now others have) said, your comments are most happily received here and your p.o.v. is one that I share to some extent but not quite to the degree you propose. I imagine we will have further discussions on this and related topics in the future and I look forward to them. But I might make you be the only one who has to wear a costume on Halloween. :)

    Shark: thank you. But – you really think Christopher Knight is an overpriced puffball?? Really? I love his work!! I don’t want to get into any anti-Knight streams here but to me he is a model of what a responsible newspaper art writer and critic should be. He’s gotten better over the years too, less spiteful in his rhetoric and more big-picture and civic minded.

    Paul: I agree that any kind of “top guy” model for critical power is not a good idea but I think the days when a critic could make or break an artist’s career are over. My piece above was not about the city needing better art writers but I will admit that you were correct in seeing that I was calling for a degree of centralization in Chicago’s quest for a national platform. I don’t have any more time sadly other than to say: what Shark was saying.
    Thanks again everyone I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to be here today.

  23. Paul Germanos Says:

    Thank you: Randall, Wesley, and Claudine.

    (1) Linking to NewCity Art would help people to find it. Consider:

    artletter
    artoridiocy
    artslant
    bad at sports
    chicago artists resource
    chicago gallery news
    chicago now art
    newcity art
    onthemake
    proximity magazine
    sharkforum
    time out

    Why would these sites–each revolving around art in Chicago–not feature a little tab on the front page featuring a link to the others? If we’re truly interested in community, and value diversity of opinion, then why not show it, act, and link…

    (2) If the “better art writers” are here and available, and the Chicago Tribune has the national platform but not the funding to hire those writers, then why not make available at least some of the content from those Chicago art sites listed above for publication on-line in the Tribune?

    One review, or blurb even, from each site–featuring a link back? That would be interesting. Edit for quality–not perspective.

    (3) Agreeing to steps: (1) linking; and (2) sharing content; would be evidence of a desire to build something other than a monument to one’s self.

  24. Paul,
    1. I agree and will work with any on your list who will do the same.
    2. I’m not interested in being edited by the Tribune or their minions. I would prefer their excerpt and link, kind of like what Huffington Post does with the bulk of their ‘news’ coverage.

  25. If you are going to compete with a seasoned pro like Christopher Knight, you don’t start a critical site here and invite everyone in town with an opinion…..if blogs are going to compete and replace hard copy they have to be good. I would immediately ixnay several of the choices ypu put up Paul Germanos -and Paul Klein you should now have learned after the CAF debacle that all inclusiveness is NOT a good idea…..there must be some sense of quality manifest – this doesnt mean all positions cannot be represented -but simply, they must be adequately so- no CAC- Art Or Idiocy….CAS, Chicago Gallery News – you add filler, invite everyone and dilute a site with junk you destroy any serious context.

  26. Claudine -I don’t think Christopher Knight is awful – just a tired, stale model is all. As far as mainstream newspaper art critics go he is probably one of the better more authoritative ones not on the NYTimes payroll…..as I understand he does command a huge salary -he certainly has powerful enemies who deeply dislike him in the art world there -but that could be seen as a good thing….I think his tenure there is coming to an end- much like Artners did here…

    as far as puff ball goes, he is right here, right now, a puffy white, red-eyed and otherwise featureless, blob like creature from Roto Fugi that is my weapon of choice as a last option when my daughter is once again annihilating me in yet another pillow attack…kind of a Mike Kelly action figure like entity…….Mr Knight should appreciate and be flattered by the comparison.

  27. Paul Germanos Says:

    Thank you, Paul. And thank you, again, Wesley.

    The list above was copied and pasted, quickly. I expected various parties to be upset at either their inclusion or their omission. The point of the thing was only to illustrate that it might be possible to do something–quickly and easily–that would support the yeoman’s service being done by people like Jason Foumberg, Michael Weinstein, Abraham Ritchie, and Claudine, et al, at NewCity Art.

    It’s a magnanimous act on Paul’s part to so readily agree to consider such a proposition.

    I think that you’re right, Wesley, that a “virtual” coming together would be very much easier than a physical congregation.

    Having written that, I don’t suppose–on-line or off–that it’s possible to perform an incantation and cause a Christopher Knight to appear. Rather, such people come to be only gradually. They grow. They develop.

    Artner disappeared suddenly; no heir had been groomed; no rightful succession was established. That was selfishness on the part of several parties. Various claims are made, now, to a right to rule; but none are accepted universally.

    People tend to represent best those things in which they believe. Why not accept the existence of various beliefs, and invite their advocates to speak on their behalf?

    If a sort of “feed” or “content aggregation” would solve the problem of editing that was presented by Paul in his point #2, above, then as Wesley suggests there would still be the problem of creating a consensus in regard to the participants.

    My guess is that, here in Chicago, consensus is impossible to achieve. A productive first step is letting go of such pipe dreams. Accept the divisions and the hatreds. And then let people know that in spite of everything “their guy or gal” will get a fair shake in the virtual press–because that’s what the art deserves.

    If you can get people to acknowledge each other via something like the linking, suggested above, then more is possible.

  28. Paul,
    Don’t forget Neoteric Art

    http://neotericart.com/

    Right now we are featuring an exclusive interview with Donald Kuspit by Diane Thodos – -

  29. I think we should have a meeting, as I said before -my studio is available for this -include New City -both Jason and Brian…..and perhaps let Claudine head the whole thing up -with lots of input -get only the best writers/bloggers here -its btw got to include R Szott -this guys great! and start a real alternative to the big city newspaper model….lets have a think tank session and strategize! We could be first on the map with this- really just a compilation of what we are already beginning to do here anyway.

  30. Claudine Ise Says:

    Hi everyone, I want to ask that anyone who wants to comment further take an hour long pause and a very deep breath before doing so. I literally just came home from the coffee shop having had to hoist my 3 1/2 year old tantrummy screaming child over my shoulder rand out of the place and my nerves are shot. We traditionally don’t moderate comments here at Bad at Sports and I know no one wants any of us to play mommy on the comments threads. Let’s just remember everyone is well-intentioned here and comments are often written in haste. Thanks all-

  31. Shark – thanks for wanting me included. Given I’m the soft hearted, populist, egalitarian, inclusivist that you suspect me to be, it means a lot.

    You seem to have one misperception though. I actually don’t care all that much to write about art and really don’t (care to) know much about it, especially the kind that makes its way into galleries. Aesthetic experience, on the other hand, I have a great interest in. Being the slacker I am writing about it is just too much work.

    Allow me an analogy. I see you as an old line Catholic dispirited at the direction of the church (artworld). Angry at the Protestants (post-conceptualists, “bad” painters, etc.) and their heretical relationship to god (art). Now perhaps the consensus curators and the neo-cons are far more deviant to you. So maybe they’re more like Scientologists from your theological perspective. Maybe Claudine is Episcopalian – a dissenter, but still sympathetic to Rome in form at least. Come to think of it, maybe you’re more Pentecostal, wanting to throw out all of the middlemen (curators, critics, gallerists) between the believers and god. In this ridiculous analogy I would say I’m an apatheist – dismissing the very question of god (art) as irrelevant altogether (but no atheist). Now I must admit that I’m trending toward a more searching relationship with god (art) and maybe I’ll soon be a Unitarian Universalist an appropriately pluralist and personal faith for me. A faith rooted not in the formalities of dogma or ritual, but in personal experience.

    So yeah, thanks but no thanks.

    Kathryn –

    Bitter much?

  32. Not just bitter, but traumatized and bitter. I was grossly unpopular in middle school and carry the rejection from the “in” crowd on my sleeve to this very day. When I’m not on lists of cool people I get so very very angry. My little Irish temper goes full postal.

    Ok, I’m back to work. Testing for bugs on the software, the specialties aren’t loaded yet and you can tell the venue data ends at G.

    Claudine! Look at you moderating! It’s like me in the old days!

    Always with the big love,
    K

  33. Claudine Ise Says:

    I love that analogy Randall and it makes sense – especially because I’m an ex-Catholic! But now I’m a Jew all the way and we like to obsess over The Text and hash it out and re-read / re-write it in all manner of ways. But yeah my first education was the so-called Roman one, and one can never quite escape it. Not sure that I’d want to though.

  34. Claudine Ise Says:

    I know what you mean Kathyrn – I was the shy mouse when I was a kid but I was never even close to being in range of any popular kids. I basically just kept my head down! Lucky for me I have always really liked being alone and even today I get super uncomfortable with large groups of socializing people. Especially pretentious ones. You are not alone!

  35. Claudine,

    Leave the gloves on! This has been furiously enjoyable to read. We have alot of pent up emotion here in Chicago for who knows why. I know our community is smallish (as i’m familiar with most of the people posting) but hopefully we’re grown up enough to have strongly held opinions about art and culture, be civil enough to each other, and start competing initiatives / publications to push those views forward. (that last part is a nod to Kathryn’s DIY outcry if not exactly her tone). In the end the success of those initiatives will be the thing that draws outside attention to Chicago, for something that is unique to it.

    Round 2?

  36. Dan, you and your charisma, you pulled me back on.

    Ok, comment #25. Go.

    Again, let the technology do the heavy lifting. There is a very cool feature some of you may have seen. A site has comments and product reviews (for example) and people can rate the comments. So you could set it up where people review the reviews. THEN what’s cool — as as comments get low ratings, their font changes and it starts to fade away. Eventually the “dumb” comment (or stupid reviews) disappear.

    So instead of making a “good writer’s club” which, as you see, can cause a crapload of resentment, you could let the audience filter.

    As Scott says in #33 – if we do have a institutional view, where there is a higher power and a hierarchy, we are always going to be begging, waiting for someone to love an accept us – as oppopsed to doing for ourselves.

    K

  37. Szott -to correct you, I am an agnostic with a flamethrower and an aversion to organized religion though sympathetic to the idea of religare and the use of metonymy – I did study philosophy with the New Critic David Nye Brown who was a catholic with a small c…

    I think your insight on this thread has been invaluable- it certainly gave me pause to consider -I feel you have an important perspective to lend here- …aesthetic experience, cathartic -a weapon against decadence, an opportunity to see what we mean via non-functional or as Heidegger put it, meditative thinking ‘far from human habitation’ -of course! That’s the whole idea Szott- having little to do with much of today’s art world -precisely why you should write when you notion strikes, as you feel compelled…

    Claudine…whats here to be moderated? Seriously -I think this whole thread is pretty tame and civilized….

    I absolutely agree with Kathryn when it comes to diy……that is what I think the new model will be…..but I also feel that quality, is going to be an imperative if we are actually going to replace what has been the existing model -Christopher Knight being a prime example.

    The Sun Times just sold today for a paltry 5 million….Margaret Hawkins should be part of our discussion….

  38. “A faith rooted not in the formalities of dogma or ritual, but in personal experience.”…..we are in complete accord here -the universality of the concrete, the inimitable… the ability to apprehend these things without doing violence to them…talk about ground zero.

  39. —–to be clear, when I say, -the universality of the concrete, the inimitable… the ability to apprehend these things without doing violence to them…

    -art for me, is not these ‘things’ but is about having the imagination to negotiate the concrete, this world, the ability to apprehend, being/things with a clarity devoid of complacency -the cathartic nature of the aesthetic experience, the limited thing ‘art’ is…..

  40. Claudine Ise Says:

    Dan, Shark – don’t get me wrong I wasn’t threatening to actually moderate comments (i.e. approve/disapprove). We’re all too lazy to do that. Just reminding everyone that we *don’t* moderate here. Things have righted themselves. As you were.

  41. Claudine Ise Says:

    Kathryn,
    The point you make here, when you say:
    “A site has comments and product reviews (for example) and people can rate the comments. So you could set it up where people review the reviews. THEN what’s cool — as as comments get low ratings, their font changes and it starts to fade away. Eventually the “dumb” comment (or stupid reviews) disappear.So instead of making a “good writer’s club” which, as you see, can cause a crapload of resentment, you could let the audience filter.”
    ***
    This is interesting to me because in fact I was lying awake last night thinking about where the logical conclusion of Randall’s way of thinking (which isn’t just owned by Randall I know, but I’m rushing and using shorthand here) – what that would mean for the future of art criticism and basically where it led me was to thinking about Amazon.com’s book reviews. Which I absolutely rely on and often enjoy reading and find “useful” when I’m thinking about the next work of fiction I want to read. And I was lying there thinking, well really, why *should* art criticism be any different? Why am I holding out for these more hierarchical models in one arena (i.e. fine art) but not in others? (i.e. books and film). Does it all come down to my own ego and personal investment in the act of writing about art (which I sure as heck wouldn’t describe in terms of “power” rather, for me, as pleasure). I don’t know. But now I can’t really reconcile the type of model/structure you are advocating with Shark’s assertion that “quality, is going to be an imperative if we are actually going to replace what has been the existing model.”

    Isn’t that what the existing model is supposed to promise? Quality? (i.e. quality writing). But if we follow Randall’s logic — (and maybe I’m being too simplistic here) — you’d have to ask, what determines “quality” when it comes to art writing anyway? Why not as you say aggregate and let the crowd decide what “quality” means to them in each and every instance? And I’m curious Shark how do you reconcile the two? Cause at the moment, I can’t figure out how to have what Kathryn is describing and also what Shark is advocating for simultaneously. What exactly would it look like? Like I said, I’m a dinosaur when it comes to all this new media. I worked in museum institutions for a decade and curators didn’t have to worry about this stuff (now they are starting to have to confront it more) but it’s still a strange new world to me.

  42. Claudine, I see a democracy of points of view delivered via an aristocracy of means -not unlike the dichotomic Randall himself: I fear clutter and all that will be lost in its midst.

    My notion, though not entirely egalitarian, still differs entirely from the gatekeeper arbiter like status of the current crop of critics/prognosticators-Mr. Knight exemplifies… -but also is at odds with the slipshod quality and unsupported opinion so prevalent on blogs…we clearly are in need of some middle ground between complete apollinian order/exclusivity and a dionysian orgy of an anything goes-athon, let the cards fall where they may -we shall let the readers confer hierarchy -all of which ultimately is in both instances, self defeating in terms of what is now desirable.

  43. http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog.asp?id=1527

    Very quickly I’ll say that PURE user voting.. look where it got YouTube — lots of panty dances in the highest rank category.

    It has a lot to do with how it’s done and designed, and the degree of anonymity allowed to the posters and voters.

    I did a user survey and there was some concensus: people want lots of pictures, historical context for the work, and where this work fits into the artist’s body of work beyond the show.

    That’s what Jason F does, he puts that “type of art” into cultural focus, and lines it up with art in that range. That’s why it’s so helpful.

    K

  44. Damn you Claudine. I really thought I might get a chance to watch a romantic comedy tonight and now I find myself responding…

    Don’t be so quick to assume my endorsement of solely crowdsourced criticism. My advocacy of pluralism is not a knee-jerk relativism nor is it to say that there are people’s opinions that aren’t worth more than others.

    Earlier I was warning against throwing out data (the aesthetic tastes of others) too quickly. Being a pragmatist, it is also important to contextualize epistemic claims, and to weigh their effects – thus questions like what do we gain by calling something bad art? So I always look to see from what position a claim is being made and what how that claim might operate. Of course this is not just something from pragmatism. I also look to feminist theorists like Harstock (standpoint epistemology) and Haraway (situated knowledge). I swear I’m going to stop the name dropping!

    To get back to the “worth” of opinions…If your car is broken you will likely trust the opinion (another way of saying a hypothesis) of your mechanic as to its underlying cause over the opinion of your dentist. The value of the mechanic’s opinion will be tested in experience (a pragmatist touchstone) when you authorize them to fix it. If they turn out to be wrong, the value of their future opinions may very well begin to “fade away” like the font mentioned above. In my example we have a relatively easy test of a problematic situation. In art criticism things get messier no? What is the problem we’re trying to solve when we turn to critical writing? Some possible problems:

    1. I have a limited amount of time. Do I want to take the time to see this exhibition?
    2. I saw this exhibition and I’m looking for some help making sense of what I experienced.
    3. I will be unable to see this exhibition. Can someone give me a reliable account of what it was like?
    4. I’m researching “x” and I need some useful thinking on it.
    5. I am looking to be made aware of new and interesting things.

    There are clearly more. If you break it down in this pragmatist spirit it becomes clearer to me what “quality” is and it also becomes easier to square the two notions you ask about Claudine. The “quality” of an idea is its usefulness in carrying one through a problematic situation (any of items 1-5 for instance). In the case of criticism, quality can largely come to mean trust – “I trust that Richard Shusterman will provide me with an analysis of a book that will serve my ends.” So Shark just hasn’t found Knight all that reliable (despite being a mechanic) in assessing what’s broken with his car, so maybe he’s found that his neighbor (who is a “mere” tinkerer) has done a better job. The neighbor produces higher quality repairs. Of course if the neighbor does this just for Shark and can’t do this for anyone else, then the quality is greatly diminished. Correspondingly, if the mechanic fails only Shark, but satisfies most other, over time, the quality of his work will reveal itself as tested socially (see below in re: personal truth too).

    There are also some forms of crowdsourcing that are better (again meaning more reliable at “solving” something problematic) than others. Amazon reviews are fine, but the structure is difficult to establish trusting (quality) relationships with reviewers. Delicious, Goodreads, and LibraryThing incorporate a social networking aspect that allows you to aggregate and follow a person’s reviews/annotations of websites and books respectively. On delicious for instance you can see everyone that has saved a particular link you find interesting and then you can look at all of their other saved links to determine if this shared interest was an aberration or if there’s a pattern of congruity (also quality). You can then add that person to your network thus adding another curatorial filter (had to make the reference).

    Sooooo…one can certainly make claims about quality in my pluralist vision. it’s not the chaos you seem to imagine. It’s just that it limits one to small , not sweeping assertions. To be a properly pragmatist aesthetic populist ones claims must be fallibilistic and meliorist in spirit. The truth of a judgment is determined by a highly contextualized set of qualifiers. That truth is not merely personal however as experience is always part of a social context and will be tested over time. Let’s not forget that human culture has been crowdsourcing a very long time – that’s what capital C culture is right? the judgments of millions of people, some experts, some not coalescing around a set of ideas and practices to create legacies. It’s just that as post-colonialists, feminists, this process is suffused with power and a history of exclusions, thus the need to examine how “expertise” is determined and who is included in the process so that we know how much quality our quality truly merits versus obliges from us out of the laziness of consensus…

    Sorry to the two of you still awake after reading my ramble!

  45. To be a properly pragmatist aesthetic populist ones claims must be fallibilistic and meliorist in spirit. The truth of a judgment is determined by a highly contextualized set of qualifiers. That truth is not merely personal however as experience is always part of a social context and will be tested over time. Let’s not forget that human culture has been crowdsourcing a very long time – that’s what capital C culture is right? the judgments of millions of people, some experts, some not coalescing around a set of ideas and practices to create legacies…….so that we know how much quality our quality truly merits versus obliges from us out of the laziness of consensus…

    I am in complete agreement with this -and assume then that you do agree that there are such things as masterpieces…when we can come together and say, this is a great work of art …that there is a difference between say listening to Jascha Heifetz play the chaccone/partita in D minor and Madonna lip syncing her latest pop confection…over time

    Of course you are a Fallibilist! I’d be disappointed if you weren’t! I doubt you are as lazy as you claim -probably just showing signs of exhaustion…ah….the fools errand philosophie sometimes becomes.

  46. Of course you are a Fallibilist! I’d be disappointed if you weren’t! I doubt you are as lazy as you claim -probably just showing signs of exhaustion…ah….the fools errand philosophie sometimes becomes.

    -I don’t say this to be snarky or sharky -without the ability and will to entertain folly, how could philosophy breath imaginatively?

  47. Shark –

    “I am in complete agreement with this -and assume then that you do agree that there are such things as masterpieces…”

    I will concede the existence of masterpieces, but let’s not clink our champagne glasses just yet because I do so in the same spirit that I concede the existence of UFOs. That is, there certainly are flying objects that remain unidentified and those UFOs are real in a qualified sense. Masterpieces certainly exist in that there are cultures, and groups within those cultures that discuss and identify them. However there are cultures and groups within cultures that do not. So once again, context is of the utmost importance, you happen to be native (I think?) to a language and culture that has a (constructed) conception of the masterpiece and thus they are quite real to you and whether you accept it or not, I would argue that you have been trained to make the distinction between “schlock” as you called it and “genius.” I prefer Madonna to Bach, and given a certain set of values I can determine which is a masterpiece. The key being what values do I judge by? If you say a masterpiece is something that makes the dance floor fill up consistently and inspires dancing then Madonna’s oeuvre (you must be wincing at seeing those words next to each other) wins. In fact, she now has two decades of the evidence of her “genius.” Again, this leads me to ask though what do we gain by declaring something genius or a masterpiece beyond the emotional satisfaction of declaring our affection? Perhaps in the cause of preservation it is useful…but making these categorical proclamations seems counterproductive unless the ability to exclude some people from recognition is a desired end, which for me is not urgent at all!

    Errrgh. Running out of time, so I’m not sure I said this exactly as I’d like…

  48. of course any idea of a great work of art is contextual!”…”I prefer Madonna to Bach,” I choose to think you only intend this as rhetoric -if not, its your penchant for indulging in academic posturing (however entertaining it is to read) run amuck! -go get a copy of Heifetz playing unaccompanied Partitas/Sonatas JS Bach for a moment -few hours actually, of clarity- if the goal is, as an aesthetic one, clarification of consciousness-

    it was going to be waffles for my kid this morning -now thanks to you, its a fruit bar and some scrambled eggs- I’m scrambling!

  49. I’m doing some back-reading on the site as I was hiking internet-less for 10 days. Thus my commenting now.

    Great article, Claudine. Great comments all.

    A quick point about discussing what is good or bad: Quality. And quality must be adjudged, argued about, lack-thereof decried, presence thereof defended. A lack of a single monolithic ruling style does not, and should not, necessarily entail, laisser faire pluralism. When everything is simply okay, then nothing is great.

    “Chicago does not have a national voice” — That, as WK has often been plugging, is a BIG problem. And I would pluralize and expand it — from my personal standpoint as a quasi-Chicagoan in Europe, Chicago art deserves several INTERNATIONAL voiceS. The starting point could be some high quality, knowledgeable writers at internationally known publications (like the Trib), and then building on that. As it stands now, there is some good local discussion that has almost no impact AT ALL elsewhere.

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