Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Visual Art: Not Visual Any More

How apropos. I must quote Franklin.

1. Taste is the ability to detect visual quality. People with taste are relatively rare. People with inclinations towards art and the mental capacity to wonder about it are quite a bit more common.

2. The art market grew to its present size thanks to the latter group, not the former. It has done so by flattering the latter group into thinking that it has progressive taste, not a lack of taste.
Apropos because the list of 2008 Creative Capital visual arts grantees arrived in my mailbox this morning. The title of the announcement was, "41 ideas whose time has come.'

Note that ideas. Not 'visions,' not 'artists.'

Creative Capital grants are the biggest grants available for artists working today, as far as I know. They not only provide grantees a whopping influx of cash, around $50,000, but they provided mentorship, promotion and visibility. A Creative Capital grant can and does make an artist's career.

And Creative Capital makes its first cut of visual arts grant applications without looking at any visuals.

This is disgusting. It is sheer, unmitigated, blithering arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. It is pseudo-elitism at its most banal and bourgeois. It is flattering the tasteless at the expense of people who became visual artists because they communicate, and express themselves, visually.

Thus, Creative Capital is guilty of extreme bigotry and prejudice against the very people they purport to be supporting.

Visual art is a language of its own. It does not translate into English, particularly not the kind of postmodern bullshit that appears on press releases, artist's statements, museum catalogs and Creative Capital applications. It can transcend culture, religion, language and politics; it can heal the world, if given a chance.

I am really, really tired of arts organizations which are more interested in appearing important and progressive than they are in actually making that kind of a difference in the world--the kind of difference that would genuinely heal, genuinely communicate in a manner that transcends chatter, politics, social class and culture clash. I am disgusted and I am furious and I don't feel like being polite about it anymore.

Look, people. Ideas are easy to come by. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Ideas are good, bad and in between, but they don't mean jack without thorough follow-through and execution in the physical world. You don't fund ideas to get results; you fund people who are actually out there doing something, with or without your funding. You will not shut us up. You will remain banal and irrelevant, regardless of the press or the plaudits you receive, and those of us with actual taste will always know the difference.


Anonymous said...

I sympathize with what you said above quite a lot, but their system may make a certain amount of sense in the end. Since they plan to support these artists for the long term, they want to work with ones who can articulate the motivations behind their art, put together a convincing grant or exhibition proposal, and otherwise interact with the art world in an intelligent way. If they conduct this process in a good way, they will take the 300 best writing samples, advance them to the tier in which CC reviews the work, and not only will they spare a ton of people from the trouble and expense of submitting images, they might even end up with a more diverse pool, as reviewers will not have the opportunity to dismiss work out of hand on the basis of style or medium.

If they do it in a bad way, they'll favor work that lends itself to protracted written explications, at the expense of artists with formal ambitions, and end up with the same steaming pile of junk that you see everywhere. We should look at the work of those recent recipients and see what they make.

I participated in the CC professional development program and found it enormously inspiring. I plan to apply for the upcoming round of grants with my comics work, so I'll let you know how that goes. I also applied to their writing program two cycles ago, and they strayed far from their stated intention to "encourage writing about art that is rigorous, passionate, eloquent, and precise." They instead funded a bunch of historians already ensconced in academia. An upsetting number of project descriptions at the link use "practice" as a noun, and similar flaccid phrasing. CC is a mixed bag.

Chris Rywalt said...

This post should be sent to Creative Capital in some form in some way.

shea holliman said...

I completely, agree with you.
Even, when I was most young, I felt this way and for many years or moons, I didn't even want to be any part of the so called art world. I have only changed my mind recently.
I remember that when I was in my last college painting class where the critiques were all about your idea, it didn't matter about the visual. I hated that and disagreed. After the first critique, I then just started making up bull shit that sounded good to go with my paintings so that I wouldn't fail the class.
I have only one real regret and that is that I didn't pursue a masters in art when I had the opportunity back then. Although, the first painting teacher I had, Robert Head, was a great teacher, and taught you how to find you way or voice, in visuals, materials, etc, retired, He was great, old school.
I am glad to see that the one thing that I believe about art is shared by at least a few other people as you have written here.
Thank you.

Chris Rywalt said...

In my time at the periphery of the New York art world, and in one end of the online art world, I have found that there are a lot of people -- a lot of people -- who share our belief in the visual side of visual art. We keep getting together in small numbers and discussing it ad nauseum.

It seems to me there's a big craving for a "return" to visual arts which are actually visual. (I'm using scare quotes because I'm not sure the desire ever really went away.) There's a vast empty place waiting to be filled. Or maybe it is being filled, in some way, but not by the "official" art world.

I can almost sense a way to form a parallel art establishment -- an anti-establishment, against an establishment which has tried to declare a monopoly on being anti-establishment -- I can almost see how it could be done, how we could join together to forge a powerful movement and sweep away the old supposedly avant guard. It's presque vu -- almost seen. The most dangerous vu there is.

Pretty Lady said...

If they conduct this process in a good way, they will take the 300 best writing samples, advance them to the tier in which CC reviews the work, and not only will they spare a ton of people from the trouble and expense of submitting images, they might even end up with a more diverse pool, as reviewers will not have the opportunity to dismiss work out of hand on the basis of style or medium.

I see what you're saying here, Franklin, and it's a good point. Where it falls down is that in my experience, people who sit on these committees rarely have any understanding of what good writing is, either. They tend to be tone-deaf to humor, irony, style or eloquent insight; they tend to pay serious attention to the plodding, arcane, obtuse, and downright nonsensical. If the 'artist statements' which I regularly receive in my mailbox from the exhibitions touting the successful grantees are any indication.

And I have yet to see a successful grant or mentorship applicant who overtly stressed formal quality in their statements.

This post should be sent to Creative Capital in some form in some way.

I have a friend who wrote to Creative Capital when they were just starting out, raising this precise objection. They replied that this was the way they wanted to do it, for the reasons that Franklin elucidates. They're not amenable to reconsideration.

I then just started making up bull shit that sounded good to go with my paintings

That has never worked for me. I think my face is too expressive; people can always tell when I'm bullshitting.

On the flip side, I was very good at talking about my work when my methods and ideas were attacked; after every vicious, stupid critique the other students would say, "You defended yourself well."

The only trouble is, in my view, the work is a failure if it requires verbal defense at all. It ought to be sufficiently visually powerful to shut people up.

I suppose that if I create work of such visual power that it shuts up blind, self-involved idiots, I am truly a Great Artist, however. It's always good to aim high.;-)

I can almost sense a way to form a parallel art establishment

I, for one, plan to keep on doing what I'm doing, only more of it and louder. 'Banding together against the Other' doesn't so much appeal to me anymore, since I'm tired of eternal politics, but it seems that there are simply some people I resonate with, and some that I don't. I'm making more of an effort to seek out the kindred spirits.

Chris Rywalt said...

PL sez:
They're not amenable to reconsideration.

I don't think they need to see it because it'll change their minds. They should just see it, that's all.

'Banding together against the Other' doesn't so much appeal to me anymore, since I'm tired of eternal politics...

I was thinking less "banding together against" and more "banding togetherfor." There's no point in defining yourself as against someone or some other group. That turns you into an idiot. But defining yourself as for something, that's worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Arrgg!!! I just wrote a long post about my correspondence with Ruby Lerner, director of CC, and other stuff, and I accidentally deleted it and am now to frustrated to reconstruct it. (I'm the aforementioned friend o' PL's). Can't do it now, sorry.

jeff said...

this is the result of the post-modernism theory based art education. It's all about theory and being self-absorbed in the guise of self expression.

beebe said...

Oh, I like you. I like you very much.

jeff said...

I am going to chime in again,
I think to depend on creative capitol or any other grant to make or break your career is a red herring.

Yes it's good to get these things, but they should not be the be all and end all.

I have met grant junkies who are very good at this, writing grants, and that's all they do. I have known one chap who spent over 6 hours a day perfecting his grant writing. By the age of 30 he had them all, Rome prize, a Province Town Residency, and so on.

He was really into this, he defined his worth as an artist by chalking them up. It's a club, those who are in and those who are not.

It's a lot of BS and people should stop defining themselves by this narrow tunnel of the art world, it's nonsense.

Creative Capital my ass, the mere fact that they wont look at art already defines the artists into camps, the ones who can right well and the ones who can't. What this has to do with art I don't know.
It has more to do with writing and how well one can play this game.

The creative aspect is not there at all, it's hoop jumping for the trained monkey artist.

I asked this guy what he was going to do when he ran out of grants to live on, and he looked at me, as one does when one is looking at one of a lower class, and said, "are you kidding?" As if the very notion of answering my question was beneath him.

I think it's a kind of art welfare, and people do become obsessed with them.

Anonymous said...


You said "It's a lot of BS and people should stop defining themselves by this narrow tunnel of the art world, it's nonsense."

I don't think anyone here is defining themselves by whether or not they get grants. It seems we mostly agree that CC's preliminary screening procedures are misguided, but to say that ALL grants are bs is overstating the case and, to be honest, sounds like the sour grapes of someone who has applied, perhaps repeatedly, and unsuccessfully. I have gotten several large grants and while I don't feel that that "defines" me as an artist, it does help, both practically ($ helps!) and as an expression of validation from the establishment. Of course, if one doesn't receive such validation, one should not take it as a judgment that one is NOT a good artist. Like most things in life it's a combination of chance/luck, skill, planning/preparedness and various indeterminable and unknowable factors. Before applying for anything, one should read the guidelines carefully and determine if you have a chance at getting that particular grant/job/whatever (and how time-consuming the application process is) and take the chance or not. It's a bit of a crapshoot, but hey, every once in a while you win, and that's great.


jeff said...

I have only applied to 2 grants in my life I got one and not the other.

My point is that it seems people spend a lot of time thinking about this.

I have met people who are very obsessed with them and as I stated some spend a huge amount of time perfecting the writing for them.

It's not sour grapes, I don't care about them myself, the money is not very much in most cases. Seems to me your into this or your not.

I don't care about them that's all and the artist that I have seen who are, there work does not add up to the grants, they get them because they can write well, that's how it is.

k said...

This is absolutely not my field. All I can bring to bear on the discussion are the perceptions and skills I developed in my own mundane profession, back when I was still in it.

With all due respect to those who support, in some form, the idea that visual artists should know how to express themselves in writing, CC's decision-making model is ass-backwards.

To do the initial *weed-out* based entirely on writing is ridiculous.

The reason I say that is, even assuming there is an important call for writing skills, the priority is seriously mis-ordered here.

The #1 objective, above - FAR above - all others should be the visual quality of the visual arts presented by the artists.


To say that doing the writing weed-out first will *spare a ton of people from the trouble and expense of submitting images* is patronizing. I bet the applicants would far prefer to choose for themselves whether or not to go to that trouble and expense. They're supposed to be grownups, and this is their career, supposedly under their jurisdiction. Let them decide.

Second, if this CC group is a *mentoring* organization rather than strictly awarding cash, then I'll argue that the artists' facility with writing is moot as regards the application. If they have the artistic ability to win, and it's then discovered that they can't write so well, let CC take them in hand and teach them.

Especially since, as PL says, the judges can't judge writing anyway.

And even more because, if you want real artists to get ahead with your organization's help, then *weed out* the ones that aren't artists!!! Why in the world are you giving a boost to fools who can write but not do art?

Next? If CC has displayed what is, to me, a form of corruption in their writing program, then the tree is poisoned at the root. That's a sign of character, there. Or lack thereof.

A person or organization who strays from helping those they're supposed to aid, and gives money away to established professors, is committing a kind of fraud. If they do that in one arena of their organization, they'll do it in others.

I hate fraud.

This kind of crap makes me want to go bust a bank. Excuse me. A subprime mortgage lender.

Fraud damages innocent people. Greatly. Here, the outcome of fraud goes like this: Since the approval process is both backwards and tainted, ANYONE submitting applications in the expectation that it will be decided on the merit of their art will have gone to the trouble and expense of applying for NOTHING.

Maybe they can write for grants so well, they'll get an award anyway. But if so, it won't have a thing to do with their art.

That means they'll lose the opportunity of honestly examining and learning about their status in their chosen profession. Without that, they can't continue to develop their skills. With extremely rare exception, when their education or mentoring, whatever, is based on BS to begin with, BS is the only road they'll continue to travel. That's human nature.

They're being played for fools, and that's a sad waste on so many levels.

I find it incredibly significant that CC's writing program is the one franklin named as tainted. The way it's set up with this visual arts grant application?

It really doesn't have much to do with creating art, but instead with writing about art. That's borne out by their prioritizing writing before art. Prima facie, folks.

And in the one place they named their objective *honestly,* the writing program, the awards went out via good-ole-boy network BS in a heartbeat.

jeff said...

Thank you K for a very well written piece. You said what I wanted to say, and you did it better than I could.

On the subject of good ol' boy network, the Guggenheim is one such example of this.

I have seen this in action first hand.
The names will not be stated to protect them and me but this is how it went down for this award.

When I was in grad school one of the professors had been trying to get a Guggenheim and it was something that he coveted before he turned 50.

Now as luck would have it his friend was on the committee and told him not to worry that he was a shoe in for that year. He got the award.

This man who is also a professor at a well known University also tells his pet students that they should also apply in a few years as he will help them get the award.

Am I shocked that happens, not at all, in fact I expect this kind of BS. Corruption is what it is, and the reality is that grants like the
Guggenheim are not given to many people who are not known by someone on these committees.

The issue of writing is central to getting most of the higher level grants, you can't escape it.

As I stated before I have seen people get very obsessed with this and work hard at the skill needed to write the grant. What is missing in this conversation is the fact that the writing skills often have nothing to do with the art, and in some cases some spend more time writing than doing the art.