Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Judging Art: Almost Objectively

"If I state what I think, and I always do so with certainty, one of two results will follow. 1) I'll be right, and this will clarify things for others. or 2) I'll be wrong and someone will correct me - at which point I can revise my opinion and no longer be mistaken."

This article is inspired by a number of deep debates and especially one intense conversation with my good friend Charles Philip Brooks. As a true friend must, he called me on my very strong assertion that we could compare Soutine and Rembrandt - not just "The Slaughtered Ox", but Rembrandt's late work in general. Given that I've tackled almost every style at one time or another, I felt confident in my comparison. But he very kindly explained in his charming southern manner that such claims could very easily be interpreted by people who don't know me as arrogant, naive, or dogmatic (Not his exact words). He suggested, and rightly so, that if I was going to continue to use such firm language, then I had to have a damn good argument to back it up. Very true. Frankly, I didn't care if I was wrong. I was, and am, looking for sound logic based upon the most objective information that I have available. And if someone demonstrates logically that a particular assertion is wrong, I can and will consider their point of view carefully and alter my opinion accordingly. In this vein, Charles pressed me on the topic, and for the first time, I clarified to him (and to myself) the reasons why I felt they could be compared. Why visual art should stand on it's own visually; why we can compare and judge paintings side by side, and especially why we can and should first disregard context and attempt to regard the piece alone, with no strings attached. Context can be assessed later, and I'll get to that.

Yes, this is an overwhelming and often unpopular task, but something that I've been concerned with for some time now: forming objective criteria for analyzing and judging art, at least as objective as we can get given that we can't possibly step outside of ourselves and our condition as humans. I'm not trying to build an exact science out of the analysis, comparison, and understanding of art, and I don't believe it will ever be one - thankfully. But, in my previous experience teaching art, I often find myself striving for some kind of criteria to analyze and describe the work, which wasn't entirely "wishy washy". How to you teach an art student? How do you give them value for their money without qualitative tools and without teaching critical thinking? How do you or they know what is necessary for them to learn? Like explaining such an unstructured field, creating universal criteria is an equally massive task. But, I believe it is worthwhile and I believe it can be done. Why, you might ask, can you do this when so many others before have tried and ... well, not failed, but not quite succeeded? Historical perspective.

I have the benefit of a great accumulation of history, science, philosophy, art, and it's all at my finger tips. And I was lucky enough (part luck, part hard work) to attain - and continue to build on - an education providing the ability to tackle and process such a task and to have been born in an age where I have the internet, and the ability to sort through the mountains of data that it provides. I'm approaching this first from the perspective of a painter and teacher, secondly from the perspective of philosophy, third from a scientific perspective, and fourth from an art historical angle. Yes, this is a task which speaks of and demands great confidence, but don't mis-understand me. I don't believe I am greater than those who have tackled it before, only in the right time, place, surrounded by the right people, and given the right resources. I'm not the first to propose this. I'm not inventing the wheel. I'm simply trying to synthesize and streamline other approaches into a more objective and clear system. So, on that note, let us go straight to the foundations.

Before I begin I feel it's necessary to define the term "Art" so that we all know what I'm talking about here. When I refer to "Art" I am referring to two definitions. I'm speaking of the original meaning of "ars" in ancient Rome, or "tekhni" in Greek, passed down from at least ancient Greece: which is synonymous with skill, beauty, emotion (the concept being only part of the whole) and is the basis for Odd Nerdrum's definition of Kitsch as well as the definition of Art used by many of the contemporary realist movements. And I'm speaking also of the contemporary definition of "Art" which is primarily the concept.

What is the purpose of Art? This is largely debatable. But most answers you will hear have something to do with a desire to feel connected - with each other, with a deity, or to leave something of ourselves behind when we die. Most answers seem to have a common root in communication. And if we look at the origins of Art: cave and rock paintings 40,000 years ago, small sculptures like "Venus of Willendorf", or even early installation art: Stonehenge (I'm half serious). We can easily conclude that some kind of communication is intended, for these are all symbols or signifiers of something.

Building on the assumption that the shared primary purpose (among many others which might vary from culture to culture) of Art is communication, we come immediately to an impasse. Because each individual person has different experiences in life, they have different contexts and meanings for things. Thus, even the best communication is imperfect. It is impossible to understand exactly the intention of someone else and exactly what they mean. But perhaps this is the reason why Art is so necessary and powerful. Through it we can find other means, or multiple means of communicating. Culture gives us an additional context for meaning, but as culture changes from one geographic area to another, and as it changes over time, first subtleties are lost, and then more and more becomes incomprehensible. So culture is shifting, and context is shifting... does that mean that meaning is constantly shifting? Yes and no.

There is something that we universally share, regardless of where or when we were born, regardless of our gender or language, or ethnicity. We are all human. We have basic needs and desires. We have a common human nature that has not fundamentally changed in tens of thousands of years. We all understand, or have an overlapping understanding of food, sex, death, fear, anger, love, comfort, happiness, longing. When we visit a foreign country where we don't speak the language, the first things we understand revolve around these elements. My first experience of communication in France was at the farmer's market, selecting the perfect tomatoes. (And they were amazing tomatoes). The woman standing beside me tried a sample and the pure pleasure was evident on her face. Sure, this is still western culture. But the same is true for those newly discovered tribes in Brazil or southeast Asia, who, at the time of their discovery, hadn't had contact with any other cultures for thousands of years. Yet, they share the same basic understandings. If we come across a bear in the forest standing on its hind legs and roaring, we all recognize that this is a sign of danger. Of course emotions are more complicated than such basic instinctual understanding. But emotions are first based upon instinct and then altered from experiential input. We are genetically predisposed to these universals, and though we are a very flexible species and our actions can be altered and programed by culture and individual experience, our deepest desires, fears, and passions are shared and universal to humanity.

So, here is where I begin my search for objective criteria. Without context. Genetics are an expression of the laws of nature and physics, and as objectively as is humanly possible, we can measure, quantify, and describe them. And as nearly objectively, we can study, quantify, and empirically describe attributes and universal qualities of human nature and the human experience - many of which we share with mammals. I won't go into the science, but it is sufficient here to point out that it exists. Though genetics may change over a very, very, long time; for our purposes concerning Art, on a human scale - on a mammalian scale, these things are applicably constant and stable.

Of course, it begins to get tricky when we move to Art, because by the very nature of communication, we require at least two people. We require community and culture at least on a basic level. But any anthropologist will tell you that cultures are built upon the foundations of human nature and their interaction with the particular environment in which they live. Form follows function first. And then, form may vary and evolve - based on the initial function. So, if we try to stay aware of our own cultural and individual biases and dogmas, which distort our perception (not always in a bad way) then we can understand some of the basic elements of human nature and of culture, and for our purposes, communication.

Because of human need, there seem to be several purposes for communication. The obvious is, of course, conveying meaning. But we also require other needs of communication, for instance the well-being we receive from simply feeling connected with someone. Communication seems to serve the purpose of both providing information and various kinds of emotional gratification. This nuanced line between the two seems to be where Art lies, in the poetry of our common connection. Strip away all context, and that which is left, is the thing that is Art. What I'm proposing here is similar to the idea of New Criticism, which I've only very recently discovered.

Context, by definition, is something on the outside, imposed upon the subject. The universal human experience is something on the inside. It is the subject of communication. Everything has context, but we cannot judge something based upon its context. The relationship is analogous to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. You cannot simultaneously measure both the position and velocity of a subatomic particle. What I'm getting at is that context is relative to the perspective of the viewer, whether the viewer is in the same culture or time period as the artist. Further, there is the question of what context is relevant. Is what the artist had for breakfast relevant? So, context is entirely dependent upon the knowledge of the viewer and is projected upon the actual piece. I'm not saying understanding the context intended by the artist (as far as we can understand intention) is meaningless. I'm simply saying that context cannot stand on its own. It requires something to refer to for meaning to take place, and the value of the context is absolutely dependent upon the communicative efficacy of the work itself.

The question: "How well does the work communicate" can be clarified to ask "How well does it speak to our shared experience. How deeply and clearly does it fulfill the needs that we require of communication"? Thus, the most objective means of judging the success of an artwork is by judging how well it communicates to our shared human qualities, in the language that we all intuitively understand to the deepest core of our being. How well does it connect us? It is difficult to ask both for depth and clarity... depth entails nuance, and clarity requires specificity. So we have to develop some basic guidelines, or principles by which we can gauge a particular work's success in fulfilling our emotional and intellectual needs.

I think we can break it down into three basic principles: skill, emotion, and content. The emotional component and the content are obvious, as they directly fulfill our needs vis a vis communication. Skill, is more of an indirect but absolutely necessary principle. Some degree of skill is necessary to convey meaning and create emotional resonance. But the more nuanced the meaning, the more nuanced the emotive content, the more skill is necessary to convey it. This is not a quality judgment. Goya's "Saturn Devouring his Son" is a very successful piece with two primary emotional meanings: disgust and empathy. We don't need to know Greco-Roman mythology to feel the impact of this painting. We need no context other than the fact that we are human, that we are alive. What we recognize is another human being, twisted and tortured by experiences and powers beyond his control. Somehow the madness in the eyes of Saturn can seduce us to imagine that we, ourselves, are unwillingly compelled to do something that we so revile, that we so deeply detest, that it twists our physical body to an almost unimaginable extent. Almost. This tension between compulsion, disgust, and empathic understanding is a powerfully harmonic combination. The technical skill is more than sufficient to enable the exact balance of expression and recognizable form/symbolism. The brilliance comes in the specific balance of all these elements. If you compare it to Rubens' painting of Saturn with the same title, we may find ourselves amazed by his skill and subtlety. But the empathy is not quite there. The skill is moving and beautiful in its own right, but the emotional/psychological content (as conveyed by the facial expression and posture, among other compositional elements) contains only a single note: disgust, and therefore is less successful. Notice I said: less successful. This piece is still highly successful in terms of unifying our three criteria in an effective combination. But it is not as successful as Goya. It's not very accurate to say good or bad, what we require is a relative scale.

Yes, cultural elements: narrative meaning, iconic meaning, subtle complexities of context in society and the life story of the artist can and do enrich and add to the value and the power of the piece. Culture and education can contribute subtlety and nuance, and often the greatest works do this as well. But context alone is insufficient and is ever shifting like the sand. Context can only communicate so much, and it is very poor at fulfilling the emotional component of communication. Thus, it must be built upon a strong root, to hold fast to the stone beneath the sand that is our common human bedrock. The greatest works communicate on many levels, but the fundamental level is to communicate our fundamental selves. The esoteric is not entirely without value, but it is secondary.

I will only briefly touch on beauty because that is another very complex subject which we should discuss in addition to this, but not within this article. Beauty is certainly difficult to define, but if we look at it empirically, we can find a significant overlap in people's subjective opinions of what beauty is. Our ideas of beauty are also malleable, given our cultures and individual experiences. Beauty of some kind that, at least partially, meets our overlapping sense of beauty is intertwined with skill, emotion, and concept and will be a natural conclusion of the effective harmony between these elements. I think it possible to build upon the framework here to attempt to define nearly objective means of analyzing and understanding the idea of beauty and many other elements in art.

Something like Damien Hirst's "The Impossibility of Death to the Mind of Someone Living" has a great deal of meaning and remarkably, some small degree of emotional resonance, held within its context. However, though this work is influential and historically important, it's communicative ability will be short lived even if it is physically preserved for thousands of years. The time will come when much of the context surrounding is forgotten, only a fraction being recorded in history, and then it will be just a dead shark. A symbol of perhaps terror, consumption, and our own mortality. A certain amount of logic might lead one to conclude, that as the work of the random acts of evolution: Nature or God - this is Art. But further than that, all subtlety is lost and this will not be the only object inspiring these question in our minds. So, relative to our time it is very successful in fulfilling mostly the conceptual portion of our communicative need to a small, esoteric group, but compared to many other pieces, and given the span of history, it disappears into mediocrity.

I don't speak of historical relevance, nor of influence. These are values placed upon the context of a piece and are not addressed here. This is not a criteria for judging the context, but the physical object or the experiential element (in the case of theater or music) of the piece itself. Of course the clarity of comparison varies according to the nature of the pieces compared. It is more difficult to compare Rothko with Peter Bruegel that it is Bruegel with Bosch, but in terms of basic principles it is possible. I'm not saying this is an absolute separation. There are indeed overlaps. Like all dichotomies, this is merely a useful tool for analysis.

So now, perhaps we can compare a few fundamentals, but it begs the questions: is this meaningful, is this relevant? Why? My answer is to say: because communication is a human necessity. We are social creatures and we need the fulfillment emotionally and psychologically, and we need the content both psychologically and practically. Comparison gives us clarity, obviously in the making and understanding of Art, but also in understanding ourselves and each other. Rational comparison is the basis of the scientific method. Refusing comparison, in the short term may be easy and immediately practical, but in the long term it drives us further apart by creating a chasm between our perceptions and understanding of each other and ourselves; thus fostering misunderstandings both minor and major. By extension, communication and Art are the foundation of social interaction and therefore civilization. Comparison helps to strengthen the stone upon which it was built, and quite simply, enrich each individual human experience. The value comes not in the fact that we can compare these works, but as a point of departure. The value lies in what we can learn from such comparisons about the work, the nature of communication, and ourselves. We can begin to build an understanding of the relationship of these elements.

Without honest objective comparison (again, as objective as we can be), we are likely to fall further and further into the relativism of Post-modern philosophy. Fine, some might say, but the end result of this among other things, is the devaluation of all art and the subtle skills of communication. How is that? Well, if all things are equal and can't be compared, then by logical extension all things are equally meaningless. If all things are Art, then nothing is Art. Value is relative and depends upon a hierarchical relationship.

Why is something more or less valuable? Because it is more or less successful at fulfilling its primary purpose.

These criteria: skill, emotion, content - seem to be as stable and objective as we can get (until someone smarter, or with more information comes along to clarify this difficult subject - and if you're out there and reading this, please fill me in!) Culture changes, contexts shift, and our perceptions can be colored and blurred by learned behavior and life experiences. But the roots of human experience and human nature are the same, and as long as humanity as we know it is around, these criteria will hold. Human art is about human communication, so, we cannot make any claims about ultimate "truth". But the work itself, in order to be the most successful, should first have the qualities within itself - devoid of context - and speak to each person who experiences the work. It must fulfill their impulse for communication, it must stir their longing and speak to them. It must show us that we are not alone.

Again, this is not a value judgment. Though I personally have made my own subjective value judgments apart from this theory and will do so in the future. But this is simply a valuable tool of analysis which we can build on. The result is that there seem to be two options. We can separate the classical arts of painting and sculpture from the larger contemporary art world and judge them primarily on these criteria, whether we call it "Kitsch" or something else. Or we can begin to apply these tools of analysis to contemporary art (at least visual art) instead of ambiguously judging visual languages based on solely their context, by using the subjective tools of linguistic analysis, which focus on verbal and written forms of communication (we can thank Foucault for that).

The simple analytical tools that I've outlined are nearly objective. The conclusion reached from those tools is debatable, and up to you.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Philosophy of Kitsch: Kant, Kunst, and Modernity

I've received a lot of questions lately regarding the philosophy behind the Kitsch movement, founded by the controversial Norwegian master Odd Nerdrum. As much as I enjoy discussing, learning, and explaining the new terms of Kitsch to an American audience, I find myself repeating things that I've already said in some previous inquiry. So, in the interest of freeing myself (and everyone else) up for the important work of painting, and in the stead of Odd's new book Kitsch: Mer Enn Kunst (Kitsch: More than Art) now available in English, I'll share with you this unstructured overview.

My goal, which I've said before, is to foster a collaboration between the disparate contemporary humanist (figurative, classical, realist, etc...) movements. As I discuss below, the fundamental goal that I find among all of these movements; from Contemporary Classical Realism, to NovoRealism, to Kitsch, is that they are striving to offer an alternative to the contemporary definition of Art: something more akin to its original meaning. How they differ is their approach to achieving this goal. So, I'll begin with a short, and by no means complete history, of the term "kitsch" and try and cover some major points as I see them.

The Kitsch movement reasons that the contemporary idea of "Art" came about in the modern era (the enlightenment). Before then, the term "ars" or "techne" was synonymous with "skill and beauty" going all the way back to ancient Greece. The theory of Art as "form" became popularized in the modern era with Kant. Kant was not the first, but he was the most influential and his assertions form the basis for modern and postmodern philosophy and art theory. When he applied protestant morality to aesthetics, he set the groundwork for Hegel, defining Art as ONLY the idea, separate from its manifestation. Kant defined the "sublime" in a slightly different sense than we tend to think of it today. At that time, the sublime was not an absence of thought, but more and experience of the divine thought. Thus the aesthetic experience was the "Form" of God. Hegel took this further to say that the true artist shouldn't even dirty his hands with making it himself. He will pay others to do it for him. This is what made it possible to have Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Paul McCarthy, Gilbert & George, (of course also money, power, and politics). As a side note: Greenberg was known to be a devout follower of Kant and disagreed with Hegel. Greenberg thought the art was the idea, but it must be made by the "true" man, in other words, a primal, primitive/modern man without skills.

As I said before, the term "ars" was traditionally used to refer to skill and beauty. Of course the "idea" or conceptual was an integral part of the whole, but it was not the entirety of it. This is closest to what the term "Kitsch" intends to mean.

Here is where we come to our choice of strategy. As we've seen demonstrated by politics time and again, the group that defines the language, makes the rules, and so always wins the game. And right now post-modernists and contemporary art are the ones who control the language and define what "Art" is. They will not let us co-exist in their world because we threaten them by our very nature. It gives one an immediate pleasure to look at a beautiful, skillful, and emotive painting. But with contemporary Art, you have to be taught to appreciate it. They will not allow us to label them "Anti-Art" or "Post-Art" (as Kuspit, Kaprow, and many others have tried) because they have the power to define Art. They have the money, politics, and the entire media machine behind them. It is much easier to change the definition of "Kitsch" than it is to change the contemporary meaning of "Art". Especially since they label us as kitsch to begin with. Thus, instead of being labeled low Art, a great figurative painter would be called high Kitsch. In the words of Broch :

"There are geniuses within Kitsch, like Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and Ilya Repin."

At this point, we will not be able to return the definition of Art back to its original state. I wonder if we even should. But we might be able to offer an alternative to contemporary Art. We can re-establish humanism, beauty, and skill. We can re-establish rationality. This all depends on how many people agree with the positive re-definition of "Kitsch". If people agree, then the meaning changes and we succeed.

The kitsch movement does not want to eradicate abstract art and contemporary art. In fact, the goal is quite the opposite. If people want to continue putting sharks in formaldehyde and others want to buy it, that's their affair. But we want to limit their power to oppress our form of expression. This is why the tactic of the Kitsch movement is not to replace contemporary Art, but to offer an alternative. As Odd said in On Kitsch:

"Kitsch is passion's form of expression at all levels, and not the servant of truth. On the contrary, it keeps relative to religion and truth. A well painted Madonna therefore transcends its holiness. And truth, Kitsch leaves for Art. In Kitsch, skill is a decisive criteria of quality. The work of the hand is self-revealing in the light of long-established norms. In this way, Kitsch is without protection because the standards are the best ever created in history. To Picasso and Warhol, it was different. They were protected by contemporary values, and still are. Art is protected against the past, because it is something different."
A common response I hear to this is to say that another distinction is that if contemporary art is primarily conceptual, Kitsch and the old masters do not concern themselves with concept or content. Many people think this, but it is a misunderstanding to think that the Old Masters did not think of philosophy. Especially during the Renaissance, they were reading Plato and Aristotle, they were reading Pliny's Natural History. If you look closely, the very way they handle the idea of the human figure will tell you about their philosophy.

For example: the Mona Lisa. This is exactly Plato's "form". It is an idealization and not an actual person. Da Vinci based his scientific studies on Aristotle and said observing from nature was the first rule. So, Da Vinci was using both "form" and "matter". Look at much of Michelangelo's work - it is an idealized version of the human body, much like the Greeks, and seeks rhythm. Both of them are also Apollonian, they seek order.

Now, look at Rembrandt, or Velasquez. They are much more focused on observation. This is Aristotle's "matter". Rembrandt would be Dionysian (passion, emotion) as well. So you have two different philosophical dichotomies that they were thinking about and each painter had their own balance between these opposites. So, content is not a distinction between Kitsch and Art, it is only a matter of emphasis.

What is different is that now artists are thinking specifically of "critical philosophy" which does not build things or try to answer questions, it only takes things apart. But it strikes me that critical philosophy has never really been turned upon it's maker. Why not analyze Kant himself according to his own criteria? I won't go into this in depth, but let me just point out a little context. Kant's dichotomy is primarily based on the assumption that the "modern man" is somehow different from his predecessors, that the "modern era" beginning with the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, created a new society which is fundamentally different from every society that has come before.

Understandably, Kant was a brilliant and insightful man. But he did not have the historical perspective that we now have, with our explorations of anthropology, among many other relevant sciences. He was not fully aware that the kinds of changes that occurred in the Enlightenment had occurred before (and after). Now we are in the midst of a computer revolution. The way we communicate and distribute knowledge is changing vastly and quickly. But, like the Enlightenment, which was spurred on by changes in the distribution of information, new political philosophies, transportation, among many others... this is not a new kind of revolution.

The Renaissance was made possible by technological advancements in the distribution of knowledge (the Gutenberg press), changes in political philosophy, the development of scientific inquiry, innovation in transportation (navigation, ship building), etc... If you look at ancient Greece and Rome, you find the same: advancements in technology which lead to news ways of distributing knowledge (the availability of paper made the ideas of Thales wide spread and spurred the birth of Greek Philosophy), revolutions in transportation, new political philosophies. We can find the same kinds of changes during the Agricultural revolution, arguably, a much more dramatic change for mankind than the Enlightenment. All of these are changes of degree, not of kind. Human nature has not changed, and as we see, society has not fundamentally changed.

So, what is Kitsch? It is akin to the original idea of ars, replete with skill and beauty: a continuous and seamless harmony between the concept and its manifestation. Kitsch is about humanism. According to Richard Wollheim, Kitsch would be "objectivist". Kitsch is about the universal human experience. Kitsch is Dionysian and follows Aristotle, but does not refute Plato. Odd Nerdrum did not set Kitsch up in opposition with Art. Kant, Hegel, and Clement Greenberg did. Odd and the Kitsch movement are merely offering an alternative to the contemporary definition of Art. And the great thing about the term is that it has it's own built in marketing. It's controversial, yet it enables us to focus on the positive, instead of negative campaigning against contemporary Art like Roger Scruton, Robert Hughes, and so many others do - to little effect. They deride Art, but they don't offer us an alternative, which is counter-productive.

Yes, maybe Kitsch will eventually be labeled as another movement within Art. But it is not post-modern. Post-modernism is dead. We now know that deconstruction is a tool of analysis, not a philosophical conclusion. Relativism is dying. This is because we now know that it just leads to meaninglessness, and humanity needs meaning.

Why foster such a dichotomy? Didn't that exact tactic start all this mess in the beginning with Kant's beauty and sublime? Where Kant went wrong (and I am not alone in this assertion) was where he formulated a hierarchy, where the sublime was inherently superior to beauty. But he could have, more objectively, (like Socrates before him) stated that they both exist simultaneously (much like the wave/particle nature of light), and interrelate with one another - arguably as they do. What I take away from the nature of dichotomies in science, philosophy, and aesthetics, is that they are excellent analytical tools, but cannot represent a state of "truth". For nothing really exists in an absolute state as far as we can tell.

Yet, it is necessary to offer an alternative to contemporary Art, whether it is an older definition of art/ars which involves skill, beauty, emotion, or a redefinition of Kitsch to encompass the same meaning. Kitsch will succeed as being an alternative if enough people accept the positive definition. Language is constantly evolving. So, that will be the key. If they don't, it will be labeled as another influential movement within Art. But, there are many thousands of people who have already accepted Odd's definition of Kitsch, and many more who respect the position, so it will certainly make an impact... in fact, already has. If the definition of Art returns to its original meaning or "ars", then Kitsch has succeeded as well. Either way, Kitsch is a brilliant strategy for returning to rationalism, humanism, and beauty. It creates a superstructure within which beauty, skill, and passion can be rewarded. A place where one can have actual freedom, based on one's talent and hard work. A place where we can again be human.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Corpus Hermeticum

String by Odd Nerdrum

C o r p u s H e r m e t i c u m

Presented by The Nerdrum Institute,
curated by Leah Poller

Corpus Hermeticum presents the work of the Norwegian Master Odd Nerdrum, and emerging masters Adam Miller, Fedele Spadafora, and Richard T Scott. The exhibition will include several major paintings by each artist and will be on view at Roger Smith Hotel in The Great Nude Invitational,

May 13 - 16 2010.
May 13th
VIP preview 4-6 pm
Opening Reception 6-8 pm

501 Lexington Avenue New York, NY 10017

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Historical Revision and Conservatism

A recent article in the Reader Supported News reveals something that is not news to me: that the kind of historical manipulation routinely practiced by Glenn Beck is spreading to actual politicians in the conservative party. (Seriously guys, I respect conservative ideology, but this guy is making all of you look like morons. Please find a conservative intellectual to support!) Now, certainly, the left has had its fair share of people trying to rewrite the facts in order to support their arguments. But the conservatives are taking it to a completely different level. There's a difference between Historians debating the meaning and sometimes facts of history, and a politician attempting to eliminate inconvenient events or flat out changing them. Ever read Orwell's 1984? Isn't that what Big Brother did? This is something we should be wary of, especially today, with the pervasiveness of the Internet, everyone can blur the lines between fact and fiction. And perhaps this is why we have so many misinformed people out there. Journalism and fact checking is on the decline and the gluttony of information to sift through is increasing.

However, this tradition is not just limited to politics. Art historians have been practicing this for hundreds of years and have put forth a tremendous effort in the 20th century to do just that. Take for example the linear concept that all of Art History is merely an evolution culminating in "Jack the Dripper"... Something drilled into your head in every American University. And by a funny coincidence, post-modernism is now the conservative stance within the Art world (don't believe me? Think of Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami) - another reason we must balance the Art Oligarchy with a rational system of evaluation based on universal and more objectively measurable criteria: beauty, skill, humanism (communication and emotion). Which makes us figurative artists not conservative, but revolutionary. Perhaps the political establishment would benefit from the rational revolution as well?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Nerdrum Institute

The Nerdrum Institute has been established to handle the art and business affairs of the Norwegian master Odd Nerdrum. One of its goals is to facilitate museum exhibitions worldwide while allowing Nerdrum to focus on his work. The Institute has all rights to sale of his work.

“We are three people who think Nerdrum is the world’s greatest contemporary painter, and who are willing to use time on his art world in this way,” former gallery owner and art dealer Bjørn Li told newspaper Aftenposten. Li has written several articles on Nerdrum, and is joined at the institute by Allis Helleland, former head of Oslo’s National Gallery, and Kjell Endre Wenstad, who ran Kunsthuset in Oslo along with Li.