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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reading Morgan Meis at "The Smart Set"

from "Egg Head," subtitled "For Martin Kippenberger, variety was the way to unify the world around him" In which he looks at bewildering mutability as one artist's way of compassing the world.

As nearly everyone has noticed, art in these times presents some unique challenges. One of the most unique is what I like to call the why-do-this-and-not-that problem. In times of yore, this wasn't such a big deal. There simply weren't that many options. You might paint, you might sculpt. Either way, you knew what was expected and you dealt with the problems, technical and content-wise, of the previous generation. Much of the time, you simply took up where your father had left off (see Hans Holbein the Elder and Hans Holbein the Younger). I'm not saying that art was easy business in those times, but simply that it did not present much of a dilemma in the why-do-this-and-not-that arena.

from "No Exhibit for Old Men," or "Celebrating the new worlds of 50 artists under 33" I don't find floating in the abyss, disconnected from history, to be appealing, and a good portion of this work bores me, but it's still interesting to hear how it is described and justified. And I must say that many of my younger friends who are serious painters would not fit into this group at all.

If nothing else, “Younger Than Jesus” shows how utterly absurd are the hopes of critics like Jed Perl or the charming boys at The New Criterion that art will "get back to the real stuff" after this period of postmodern silliness. Exactly the opposite is the case. The newer generation of artists is so "post" that they are largely indifferent to the questions of Modernism altogether. When they do pick up the tropes of 20th-century art, they do so with the same kind of benign curiosity that they use in grabbing material from popular culture or ancient history.

from "Time for a Change," being "The Medieval aesthetic in the 19th century" I found this one especially interesting, having had a youthful passion for the pre-Raphaelites long ago. It managed to revive a departed interest by looking at them in a fresh manner.

We are thus left with something of a dilemma. We have an artistic movement with a professed desire to escape from modern times and return to a medieval aesthetic on the one hand, and a commitment to extreme realism and immediacy on the other. The house of Pre-Raphaelitism, divided against itself, cannot stand. Unless, of course, those two impulses can go together.

And the two seemingly contradictory impulses of Pre-Raphaelitism do go together if you see the realism as a devotional realism. I mean that in the strict religious sense. I mean it in the way that doing your rosary is "devotional." Devotion is an act, the repetition of lines of prayer or of psalms that direct one's mind to the object of worship. And it is in the doing, in the repeating, in the trance-like state that can sometimes be achieved that devotion works its specific "magic."

from "The Art of the Art Heist" Clever way of looking at the Rotterdam heist. 

Poor Meyer de Haan, the Symbolist hunchback who was to die in obscurity soon after he painted the work that has just been stolen in Rotterdam. But it was partly thanks to de Haan and his relationship to Gauguin that Symbolist painting got started in the first place and it is thanks to de Haan that we can talk about it now, after this curious act of robbery. Indeed, the theft in Rotterdam ranks not only as a bold crime — it is a bold act of art criticism. And if I were the police, I'd stop looking for your typical gangster. I do believe that there is a rogue Symbolist collector on the loose.

"Taking Flight: Saint Francis knew it and so does Jonathan Franzen — to get the most out of life, you've got to live like a bird." I liked Franzen-the-man better after this piece, perhaps because I have found his (witting? unwitting?) revelations of self-importance off-putting.

The ultimate lesson that Saint Francis tried to teach is clear to Franzen. It is "that oneness with nature is not only desirable but possible." But to become one with nature it is necessary to become fundamentally humble. It is necessary to learn to appreciate the birds on their terms. And in appreciating the birds, one can come to love the birds. That is what happened to Saint Francis and it is what happened to Jonathan Franzen. In coming to love the birds, Franzen realized that this love "became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of [himself]."


  1. Lots of very interesting reading here, am slowly digesting these. Second link doesn't work, BTW, but I agree that today's young artists have moved beyond Post-Modernism. Some of us older ones don't quite fit there either while at the same time not being in the past. Labels!!

  2. Uh-oh! I'll redo it. Thanks, Marja-Leena. Yes, labels. I find both age division labels and genre labels are often annoying with fiction.


  3. Repaired!

    Must say that I like titles that reference Yeats, though I suppose that one might have been by way of the Coen brothers or Cormac McCarthy...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.