A question of art; Does Contemporary Art Follow Princi
What the devil artist up to. I wouldn't pay to see it where it says Nangle worm when a knight asked me artist nowadays are just too lazy to learn how to paint. Them in your comments. Well such observations have led us to try to reduce the confusion surrounding contemporary art as we ask a question of art. A question of art. Each week at this time a question about contemporary art will be discussed by an art critic a scholar and a sceptic. Here is a skeptic producer of the series Walt Richter. Do introduce the panelists. Our panel today as usual consists of Dr. Magnus professor of fine arts and Lawrence out away artist in residence at Southern Illinois University. I've been more fully introduced in previous programs and perhaps in future programs but again review their past accomplishments.
I would like to immediately get going to our central question which is does contemporary art follow established principles and by established principles let us consider first of all the traditional principles of composition. Large. Well I think if you mean does modern art does contemporary art I mean. Get organized by artists according to the compositional ideas of artists used in the past that I think the answer is pretty certainly no. Because in the 17th century artists arranged their landscapes in one way that portraiture in another way. And you know those ways no longer continue to be especially significant to the artists who continue to paint landscapes in the 20th century and portraits. They no longer do so according to the principles of the 17th century artist used. There's definitely I think been a change in the principles of organizing
work that well you know when to say that I would define balance. Things of this kind and good and the contemporary work well those are pretty general things. Yes you would find you would find those things as you would almost any manmade structure I think where they would simply be descriptive terms rather than principles in the sense that you have used term. It's almost inevitable then that the person who creates has some sort of a feeling that things have to have some kind of a harmony to the terms and terms again looking back at balance the others. OK it depends. Better ways of defining harmony I suppose one would be dead by define it by comparing the harmony that an artist has made in his picture with an external can of harmony which is common to all works not that I don't believe it. On the other hand if you use harmony to mean internal consistency
in that sense I would agree like you look at a modern work of contemporary work or past work you will find as a rule of internal consistency from one part to another. And to that extent there is harmony. But I don't think this is any kind of all over overriding harmony I don't believe that just if you have a good AI UI you have instant. Access to the well thought because it's based on a few film friends. I think the historical and individual diversity of each period an artist takes over. It overwhelms the few things which may be constant. Seems to me I recall hearing some years ago that there was a definite pattern and an artistic proposition which truly I can say at the lower left hand corner and traveled around the picture and out the lower right hand corner. I don't know if I were quoting correctly but is there some of some of this existence Dylan
lead in art today. Hardly. Let's take for instance one of Jackson Pollock's paintings. This is a large field a huge canvas usually on which a lot of things happen. With paint that has been dripped creating all kinds of interesting effect of paint which is not brushed on but dripped on having a peculiar solid consistency and very interesting varying with of line creating it texture. Simply by being. I dripped one line crossing another and creating arabesque Sawyer a very unusual kind of calligraphy. And yet there's a whole painting may be covered with this. And here is the drama here is the consistency. But it's hardly a principle of formal order.
Well this is this is that as as any order that occurs an accidental I've heard of artists who do various things like splashing buckets of paint against a canvas or a herd of one fellow had it old tire rigged on a rope from the ceiling of his base but only unbiassed legs and splattered paint at the canvas. Is this sort of does this technique really create an art piece of art. Or am I going too far afield what I equate this with Pollux dripping. Well it's a type of gesture which has something in common with the Tory principles of composition that you see in music an observational of chance effects to see what what you might be able to work with how you might go on and if you had made such a gesture or a series of such gestures just to see what might emerge. There was a marvelous film short subject which I think many people have seen of the painter on a wharf somewhere on the wing and who had a huge canvas and what she did all
sorts of crazy things a slosh paint on a tiny writing over it to get the tire marks and they had many outlandish things they took a saw and cut it up into various pieces and examined the pieces and threw away about threw away all but two or three of them and then sold them for a good price to an art dealer. Is this is this is a strictly parody or or does this sort of thing occur in contemporary art. Well the things that you mention like tire prints in the cutting up of large pictures to make smaller ones that have this happen certainly but not in the case of Jackson Pollock Jackson Pollock Jackson Pollock's paintings. Ah as a little of the fixed size that is to say they may not know in advance so I have nothing else known in advance the size it was going to be. But as he worked they took on a certain density and it was the name into maintaining this density like just so just right not not heavier not lighter. You know
which is a hard thing to do on another was it was a very controlled Yes because of the lack of you know desperately needed a drip here and he put it there only at the fact that there isn't say a traditional pyramidal composition or something on the tree side to balance doesn't mean that isn't an organizing principle. There is but it's a principle of color density rather than off the balance of mass or was there one by one density of Color Me Badd. Larger segment of the canvas may balance another density of smaller size on the other side. Right. And when he had done his waiter told me that Pollock like any other pain to appear not just take it off the floor when it was dry and pent up and he'd look at him and say things like I don't know there's something wrong with that corner which is what we're going to have. When I heard that I was kind of shocked I thought only old fashioned painters did that and then I realized that like a mayor he would then look at it and correct it and add the bit that was necessary when he needed. So I mean these jokes you
tell don't apply to park there are people who do go into chants affects and gestures which have spectacular aspects you know but not not part park really is the fact he dripped on the floor has made him get confused with people less listeners that he was you know. But what about these others let's assume for the moment that the public has a bunch of you know artists are some of these other policy artists or are they crackpots of one kind or another or they are they're simply pulling a society's tail. Well I think there are real artists. If if they want to be you see and there are various ways of being an artist one and the way that traditionally is use in the major statements is the public sort of way of recruiting of you know great struggle of the live version off to words this is frequently
the way people have worked on the other hand what one of the original things of the 20th century I think has been artists who have reduced the creative act of choice just by choosing an object and signing it just by taking an object out of its environment and putting it in a in another context that's been said that this is sufficient to make a work of art I wish it otherwise I don't want to that's obvious myself to shop talk of a bottle that bottled back you know and isolated it signed it and I know that I'm going to be isolated. He took it out of its usual function of holding bottles for cleaning and put it on a bit in the studio. So it became the sculpture in the bottle but I his act of choice that went with that without changing in the range in any way at all. So he says it's art if I say it is there you have it. So that's or are just that which is perceived as art. Yes. And
this if an artist isolates the object and makes us to see that as art then maybe that's not that's wonderful and he said maybe when I don't have well I want you want to go on talking to another and not another kind of thing is the art which is very much linked up with the life of the Artist as a gesture. They are just who is less interested in producing a work of art like Pollock ends up with a painting. But who is more interested in the spectacular gestural effect. That he or she gets by actually doing the work and possibly you know I was a man like England used to ride his bicycle over burning bitumen paintings and skid on it generally and the performance of it. He got my fantasy on television and I think that if you I mean that not the work that came out of the end was the point and I have never systems to this I think the artist who selects
objects in the environment and says art is what I choose it to be or the man who says Art that's me doing it. They both seem to me absolutely legitimate forms of art I don't think they have replaced the other kind. They're additions to the possibilities. I was just I'm just that was it so very much to actually Emperor's New Clothes. As long as people will accept it and say yes the Emperor's Clothes are beautiful fine until until they get washed uncouth and unknowing person Carlotta. Yes but look he's naked. Couldn't this isn't us the same thing that could happen with this with that kind of thing that which you're speaking the bottle rocket. A future generation may come alive. Yes but that's like the 98 bottle rock is very nice but it has nothing to do with that particular artist. Just just just calling it a piece of art as you know me is a valid criterion of that bottle back as what nearly 50 years old. It's withstood that is to say several generate two or three generations since it was
chosen to back about 15 years ago up at Motherwell one of the most important American abstract expressionist painters a traditional candle that was to say said he thought of us are probably better than most of the sculpture which was actually being produced at that time or less. So that helped. Good functional design at the time but that isn't as the artist on the personal initially created the rack and the man who discovered it simply as a difference is between an act of discovery or an act of creation and the artistic impulse is to be a creative one. What has this man created with his bottle right. The man who does the design the anonymous industrial designer who did the bottle I like to do some hard by myself to shop by isolating it also gave it an additional meaning the meaning of art. So Duchamp's was the creative act the act of saying it was art. Also I think you know something had accrued to this bottle rack by
virtue of other experiments so that it could be seen as art. So actually the perception by Duchamp is it is a very important fact or statement about art. So who are the people that consider this. This Little Rock a piece of art that's created by default. I think I've given you one testimonial I think that's enough. I told you up at Motherwell this opinion and I think I think that's a pretty good testimonial white white give you cause I love it I'm kind of trying to categorize people here used it would it would almost anyone who's interested in art except this I have the least idea and I want it why would it matter. They're forced to look at it because it has been isolated. They're forced to recognize that it is something else now besides a bottle rack it is a work of art and therefore challenging as it has he set it up in any way different from that which it was set up what it was and used to put on it and set it on a corner and what he
just on a low pedestal as overhead a star and he had no plumbing attached to it to wash bottles see so that already you know James I'm afraid I'm steeped too much in traditionalism because I simply can't visualize this. But after that let's come back to our question then. We've talked and to a certain extent about some of the traditional values in terms of composition has modern art or contemporary art established any principles of its own. Jerry. The fact that the process of making art. Has become in a way as important as the final product. As long as one can see the visible signs of the process. I think throws off this audience of traditionalists that you have in mind. They are asked to partake imaginatively and quite a new experience.
They must see the process they must feel it. They must see it existing in time not only their own time but the time as which in which it took shape. And this I think is a novel experience for most people though. Actually it it happens in other aspects of human activity continually where it is accepted. Are we perhaps overlooking one thing. It seems to me that the past from any given period of time relatively few works of art have survived it seems to me there's always been a much greater production of art than there has been a longevity of art. Is it possible that as it's not likely that the contempt most contemporary artist will be forgotten just as most artists of the past have been. And if so what are what what makes a piece of gives a piece of art of lasting quality. Or is there something we can even hope to think anybody knows.
No and I think it's wrong but I do think it's wrong too. I approach contemporary art with the assumption that most of it's not going to last anyway because you know this where one's writing off the whole thing in advance and it's just too simple. If you wanted to I mean you could write of anything in that way if you just don't want to be troubled with it. But I don't think one can skip or shirk any of the problems that modern art whizzes by saying a lot of it won't be around in the future. I'm sure you're right I'm sure a lot at once by just as a lot of the art of the past hasn't. But I don't think that that's any license to others or not to take any part of it seriously. And is this the works which survive never very well be the ones the most problematic most difficult and most awkward. Certainly the history of the last hundred
years of sore heads in the last hundred years or so it's been the art which was which had public to a public rejection. I went it was an experimental art which has tended to live better. So you know it's a tough but tough cases maybe the ones with a lot of blood. Leslie's right of my question I was formulating as you began to speak. Does the art which is popular of a given period usually survive. Here you know I think we can cite examples both for and against. I think we have to think in terms of what the public expects. Sometimes the artist and his public are very much in tune. I think this was it was true. Let's say I'm told the middle of the 19th century. And I literally under romanticism artists and audience could identify they
could even understand each other's attitudes and poses and do the pieces that survive generally reflect a high degree of appearance to certain principles. I don't think charnel immutable and absolute No. And you know there's this kind of thing which makes it which is if that's time for me to make this point about the. How the changeability of taste works against one really believing in any set of principles with relevance over great periods of time because of the the cause of early modern arts. A great success because of the Impressionists. All the academic painters of the late 19th early 20th century we all knew how bad they were. We all knew that that was rot not it was popular at the time and it was rotten. Another is a revival of that stuff and I for one like I like it like sound very much indeed and that in exhibitions and the more exhibitions planned so now even the
academics who who used to be like the evil alternative to the great impressionist aback as artists too. How can one believe in you know principle established principles when anybody can hold the stage. Another question that arises in my mind I have a daughter Lourdes that you are a follower are very fond of contemporary art in general but that you also take great pleasure in viewing some of the final so-called masterpieces of the past. Do you find there's a different kind of enjoyment from looking at these two kinds of art. That's a good question. Looking at the art of the cost isn't the peaceful experience. You know one might suppose because the pasta is just as subject to vision as as I was as a present life is
and you know once relationships there were two paintings done in the pasta continually changing. No I don't think basically it's very different if you offer them and instead of being in a situation where it's wide open that you have that situation of complete doubt that your problem is the other way around. Yes few of them and you know too much about them. So they're you know trying to see through your knowledge to the painting whereas modern paint him up not you out one is trying to add a little knowledge. I'll go to the painting. Yes I think there's another kind of enjoyment in looking at the masterpieces of the past. You enter imaginatively into history. And you get a sense of history as a sort of huge gestalt in which you are a part. And in your being apart you profoundly modify not only the position of
the masterpiece by your perceptions of it where they relate to the intended values 0 or whether you misread its subject or not. As we discussed in earlier session doesn't really matter. I think this is a very special pleasure the pleasure of the historical imagination at work that do you apply other criteria that as you look at that piece of past art from past history and comparison with contemporary work additional ones perhaps it occurred to me that one way of reading a contemporary work is is to look at what tradition it fits into who are the ancestors. This is another point we could make about contemporary art that any art which is needed. Two are needed for
for modern perception no matter how far back it may go that any art which can be claimed as ancestral is by virtue of that completely contemporary. Do you agree with that Laura. Yes I do this. I mean the past is completely subject to the uses we make of it. I mean I don't mean that we can rewrite history to suit ourselves but we experience what's allowed to come to us from history in terms of our present perceptions I present ascetics this is a the pleasure of an audience. I'm not sure that artists especially those who are struggling to create something new would look at it this way. They might rather agree with the statement that history is a nightmare for which we are trying to awake and let one of the hardest things in the world is to break through a cliche and see things things fresh.
Well again I did and I remember somebody said that talking about the great 17th century Dutch painter he said was Emperor and the greatest painter of the 19th century because it was in the 19th century that. The taste for his kind of blue the noble nod looked a little band became so strong and so he had created a Rembrandt with the century that made him but within which he was most popular. That's true in a sense. Yes that of course again we have many questions which are implied in our discussions for example what makes taste what's the role of the critic and so forth. We're deliberately not asking these questions because again the entire progress will be devoted to each of these the year I was thinking as we were chatting about the coal black painting or jet black painting which was hoping that somewhere it over would share some art critics rave it had nothing nothing at all
to soften the blackness and it was considered It was considered a work of art. How do you justify something like this or do we you know think I mean just a just a tad rime ice. I don't I don't know the names. If what I saw they're like they're not Cantlie or white canvas whatever it may be my point is whether was really my guess from a magazine page so I don't I completely like you know. Not only that but there are many different blacks. Within the painting and part of the excitement is to become aware of the playing of these degrees of blackness one against the other making very minute discriminations among these values of black. Do you suppose that part of the reason for contemporary art being generally unpopular with the public at large the fact that most people have
formed opinions about it without looking at it. I didn't that was generally unpopular I thought it was generally popular. Well it went without a certain strain of our society I'm sure we all live in a very small world. But I would have I would hazard to guess that if you were polled hundred people off the street you find that more than 50 of them didn't think much of so-called contemporary art. That's probably so but I think it probably wouldn't think much about you know the safety precautions you know around the asteroids either they wouldn't have an opinion I mean there are a lot of specialized areas as a knowledge I'm which art is one. I don't think it's you know I don't think you're suffering from a specialism any more than others but any other specialized area in conclusion let me ask each of you perhaps to summarize your response to the question. Does contemporary art follow established principles. You're right.
Well my reaction of course has been no and I think this is the wonderful thing about it that we are now in a period of intense experimentation and innovation where you can see that certain ideas are followed through to a relentlessly logical conclusion. I then inverted and follow just as far in the other direction. I think this is all to the good. LAWRENCE Yes I think there aren't established principles either except perhaps one which is just another way of saying what Jerry just said and that is I think there is for most artists one criterion is retained and that has personal control. Even if it's a sculpture say which they never touch they might send it out and have it made at a workshop and so forth. It nevertheless has to be the first to look like what they thought it was going to look like and has to be finished according to the idea of a finish they had in mind so that even without touching it they are exerting personal control.
I think that that it's that modern art is more than any other form. Why would a modern artist particularly I think the need for individuals to work in contemporary life is as is the area of personal authorship and personal control. One question which has been raised I think within the context of our program today and with which we will try to deal next week is art a form of communication. Just. A question of art featuring art critic Lawrence Callaway and professor of fine arts Gary Hart Magnus is produced and transcribed by the SEIU Radio Network. This is Steve Perry speaking join us again next week for another question. This is the SEIU Broadcasting Service. This program was
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- A question of art
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- Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
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Producing Organization: WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
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