February 22, 2014

Quick Study: Enough already, what's next, a new painting blog and more

Who knew painting (and art writing) still had the power to evoke such outrage? Some artists and writers, unhappy with the provisional and casualist approach that I've been observing for the past few years, have been wondering why this type of work has gotten so much ink and pixels. Abstract Critical, a UK publication that has complained endlessly about this direction, both in long form and on Twitter, published an essay by Alan Pocaro arguing that Raphael Rubinstein and I are to blame for inventing the whole damn thing. Franklin Einspruch agrees. Thanks, guys, that's flattering, but really? Jessica Snow wrote a note after I recently reposted the Christie's article (The Casualist Tendency) to suggest that I'm flogging a dead horse. Well, the provisional/casualist approach isn't dead--I see it embedded everywhere--but artists and writers who don't like it can't seem to stop despairing. I suggest if they want to change the conversation, they should write about all of the other aesthetic phenomena that they imply are prevalent, claim to prefer, but fail to articulate--that is, what they see going on in artists' studios and how it reflects contemporary culture.

[Image at top:  Rosa Bonheur, Arab and a Dead Horse, 1852, oil on canvas, 20x 34 cm, National Museums Liverpool.]
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New narratives on my mind: During my printmaking residency at UConn's Counterproof Press, I've been thinking about the impact indirect printmaking processes have had on contemporary painting. Also, I'm wondering why so many of us favor accidental discovery over intentional brushwork.  Look for upcoming posts that take a closer look at painters who embrace a more intentional approach. Is there room for highly controlled color and brushwork in contemporary abstraction or does that simply lead to a more mimetic (or a more decorative) result?

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Check out a terrific new painting blog published by Julie Heffernan and Virginia Wagner: Painters on Painting.  Each week a different artist will write about a painting that has gotten under his or her skin. "The blog allows us to get a glimpse into the heads of artists who primarily communicate visually. We encourage them to talk shop and rummage around in the hidden drawers that contain the nuts and bolts of art making." This week Zachary Keeting writes on Cham Hendon.

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I'd have to agree:
"[Austin Thomas's exhibition "Utopic"] embraces an anti-art aesthetic that is so minimal and non-invasive that it makes [Richard] Tuttle’s assemblages of cardboard and wood scraps look positively baroque" --Thomas Micchelli on "Utopic," Austin Thomas's solo show at Hansel & Gretel Picture Garden

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13 comments:

Abstract critical is the most reactionary and backward website in London-no artworld person over here in London mostly takes it seriously(or indeed has even heard of it).
Its generally a platform for Robin Greenwood who used to run a gallery(Poussin) promoting only a "certain type " of lyrical abstraction. He likes to have the last word on everything and is a troll- I wouldnt get too bothered by them lads(and yes they mostly are)

Yes to the above. Franklin Einspruch isn't exactly the least backward, narrow-minded person either. Consider this: Insecure men not to be taken seriously.

Hi Sharon,
Don't get me wrong, I read you with regularity, and I think your ideas are engaging! But that's just it, 'casualism' should be a theoretical touchstone, not a prescription for painting! I think Rubenstein too saw the dangers of leaning too far towards 'provisonality' even though his thoughtful contribution to the dialogue influenced many artists greatly, including myself.

You're right Sharon, its far easier to criticize what one doesn't like than to offer a positive vision for what one does.

It's made particularly difficult if one wishes to suggest possibilities that do not square with current conceptions of art.

For example you're challenging me to describe whats going on in the studios of artists I admire (which I'm happy to do) and then describe how what they're doing reflects contemporary culture.

However, I reject the notion that art does or should reflect contemporary culture. As a creative act, I think art transcends it. I don't see paintings as semiotic artifacts or mirrors of our world, but rather creations of new worlds, suggestions of new possibilities.

Conventional art history usually locates Cubism as an intersection in modernist "progression" primed by posthumous retrospectives of Cezanne's work and the influence of non-western traditions and perhaps technological developments. Fair enough.

I find it far more provocative to encounter the cubism of Braque and Picasso as authoritative statements on the nature of reality.

The multiple viewpoints, shifting perspectives and ambiguous spaces overlapping and existing simultaneously seem posit the existence of a multi-verse almost 100 years before string theory. I find it fascinating that art has the power to alter our perception of reality not simply reflect it.

You see, the "new paradigms for discussion and production" that I propose involve rejecting the frameworks for thinking about art that we have been laboring under for last 150 years or so.

But as I said in a comment on AC, its hard to get out of the forest when so many people are happy to stay in it, or reject that there can be anything outside of the forest. Or think you're crazy for even suggesting it.

I am really enjoying this conversation by the way, and I really want to thank you for taking part in it. Far from outrage, I've had nothing but a big smile on my face all week.

From Facebook comments:
Pocaro implying that Rubinstein and Sharon Butler are somehow to blame is quite silly. As if they're creating some kind of cultural illusion as a foundation for what he calls "bad art, or Poseur art". It smacks of a kind of "kids these days" attitude that seems reactionary and a bit lazy, as if to say, "look at all this crap that people are calling art these days". He along with Robin Greenwood both seem to shake their heads in disapproval of what they see as a lack of academic skill being present in much of the work, which is also quite silly. There is plenty of bad art being made by people with a great degree of academic skill. There's also a lot of bad art being made by people who choose to subvert it, but as always, amongst the vast amounts of bad art being made, there is also plenty of really great art being made, in all manner of styles.

I don't think the bad art being made in art school is limited to the students thinking about provisional/casualist approaches. Think of all the bad video, installation and figurative painting. Just sayin.

i dont believe there can be *bad* art, merely unwanted art. But everything got its place

I'd like to know from Anonymous where he/she/it has seen me lamenting a lack of academic skills. I'm far more likely to have branded Provisional/Casual/DIY painting academic, and exhorted painters to be more adventurous. And for the record, my views differ substantially from Pocaro's; but at least we are both who we say we are.

Hi Sharon,
Thank you for the advice. I take the point to an extent, and agree with what Alan Pacaro said on twitter that it is easier to be negative than positive, but I don't think that should banish the idea of negative criticism. Nor am I completely won over by the idea of art which 'reflects contemporary culture'. The idea seems quite restrictive - and this sort of recognition is certainly not the chief way I respond to art.

I hope you don't mind me posting links to our 'Notes' & 'Articles' in the way of balance to how Anonymous (is this one person or two?) has characterized the site. So at least people can see for themselves. Notes - http://abstractcritical.com/notes/
Articles - http://abstractcritical.com/articles/

Hi Anonymous

I think if you really looked at the site you would find it a more complicated beast than your comment implies. The charge of "reactionary" is itself a lazy one. (I agree with you that we should have more women writing for us). Or course you are by no means obliged to read us in-depth, and are free to join the rest of the London "artworld" in neither knowing abstract critical or taking it seriously.

Does abstract criticial have a stance rooted in modernist abstraction? Yes. Are it and all its contributors entirely comfortable with that? I don't believe so. I think there is enough tension running through the writing on the site, above and below the line, to make it interesting - John Bunker, Dan Coombs, Robert Linsley, Katrina Blannin are all artists and regular contributors with very different takes on modernism and abstraction.

Alan Pacaro has written elsewhere – and I think we can all more or less agree - that abstraction is no longer a major cultural force, even it does seem to undergoing a sort of resurgence (on a personal note, being around the same age of say, Jacob Kassey, I would see my own attraction to abstraction within the general terms of this resurgence). The idea of abstraction over-ness (a horrible phrase I admit) is a major part of the thinking behind Provisional Painting, isn’t it? However I think that abstract critical's own position in relation to the past is a more positive one – and I think the many artists who read the site value this. We try to take abstract art seriously, even if this means at times judging both its past and its present harshly, or viewing its revival with some specticism. In its small way I think that seriousness is important.

Sam Cornish
editor www.abstractcritical.com

I have never seen any lyrical abstraction at Poussin. Some decent artists shown there, mainly sculpture. Abstract critical is a very well respected forum with diverse ( if you want to post you can, it has no house bias or style) and very challenging opinions. Pocaro is very misguided and too sweeping in this instance. Abcrit is the vehicle not the editorial on this. It is only unforgiving of lightweights...

"I suggest if they want to change the conversation, they should write about all of the other aesthetic phenomena that they imply are prevalent, claim to prefer, but fail to articulate etc,"

Or artists shouldn't spend their time on it at all. Too many painters trying to do everything: "I'm a painter, designer, blogger critic who runs a non profit record label residency, and I do performances that I film"
Lot of the painters I've seen that constantly do the whole "TumblrFacebookTweetBlog" about other peoples work, don't show much of their own work anywhere.
Stay in the studio, trends come and go, we get it, why expand on it on some website?

Regarding your projected narrative: “Is there room for highly controlled color and brushwork in contemporary abstraction or does that simply lead to a more mimetic (or a more decorative) result?”

Leading question, Sharon. What if we inverted that question (fair is fair): “Is there room for deliberately uncontrolled color and brushwork in contemporary abstraction or does that simply lead to nihilism?” Isn’t the answer that of course there is room for both approaches, and that neither is obliged to go to extremes (nihilism on the one hand or mimesis/decoration on the other)? Don’t both approaches co-exist, right now, and not only in New York? And doesn’t the fact of their international coexistence lead us back to Chris Burden’s definition of art as a space in society where anything is possible? Or even further back, to E.F. Grombrich’s idea that there is no such thing as art, there are only artists? Didn’t post-modernism teach us something, i.e., that hierarchical and dialectical thinking are not the only ways?
P.S. I highly value your blog and visit it regularly (and have it linked from my site) – thank you for keeping it going.

Wow, a lot of artists or critics and names, thinking a bit too much about what makes art or doesn't.

Art is a reflection of the artist. That may or may not reflect the culture or era, depending on what their stuffing is made of.

Whether an artist uses a brush or techniques to remove him or herself from the mark making, in my humble opinion, whether abstract or realism, it's all about transcending what we know. Diving into uncharted territory, teaching ourselves (and the universe teaching us), feeling the joy of the new experience. If you've ever spent a day in the sun painting in a marsh, it's hard to see how you could not see more than appears and feel the undeniable pull of the stinking mud and abstracted chaos around you. Who cares if a painting's got decorative elements or whether your mark maker was made by a factory expressly for moving paint, or a dirty stick? Who gets to say that these are not also valid? Harumph. Personally, I'd take the argument one step further and say that labels and classifications are useful for talking and teaching about art, but not for making it. As soon as you start letting critical thought take over your painting, letting people tell you what you may do if you fall into a certain category as a painter, you are done. Our minds are meant to help us paint, not do it for us. So somebody doesn't like it, well, it's bound to happen.

I think as long as you don't take critics, inner or outer, too seriously they can be good, whether negative or positive. They can bring you to new understanding about your work. But it's a fine line. You have to know when to walk away (or tell yourself to shut up), or not read the paper if you know you're just too vulnerable for it. It's just like using red or black. Use it sparingly, and it can be sublime. Use the whole tube, and it's probably better if you have a ladder lying nearby to get you out of the hole if it doesn't go well.

Learning to protect the soft, sweet place that we produce our work from is the most important job we have as artists. It is all an illusion and our playground, until we give it a name and make it too real.

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