Saturday, December 01, 2012

What Annoys Me about Art Criticism

Trying to stay out of the rain in San Francisco yesterday, we popped into the MOMA for the Jasper Johns show.  And here on the wall is a curator's intro offering, inter alia, this line:
Johns subscribes to...the notion that an artist sets in motion a creative process that the viewer must complete.
No, dingdong, that is entirely wrong. There is no must about it. The artist may beguile, may attempt to seduce, may desire the viewer to this that or the other; he does not or cannot compel, and whether the viewer completes anything is a matter entirely at the discretion of the viewer.  In the end, I suppose the viewer may feel he must do this-and-so but it is still his choice, not the artist's.

 It's what bugs me about so much art criticism.  The curator seems to be stuck back in a hypothetical glory time back, say, the 50s--which is to say, the time when Jasper Johns burst so dramatically on the scene.  And which is to say, back when yokels from Dubuque said "my five-year-old can paint better than that"--and harbor secret pangs of unworthiness because they didn't believe what they said.   Those days are gone.  True,  that a Saatchi may still be willing to pay gazillions trying to prove to himself that he can buy something that I can't buy (though even this proposition may be less true than it was).   And true that that Big Art persists as a social network.  But its special aura has vanished, and for anyone to try to tell us that we "muist" do anything is just whistling past the graveyard,  It's marketing, bro; deal with it.

Boring afterthought:   I'm willing to grant, however, that Johns does have some interesting things to say, or show, about the relationship between the abstract and the concrete in art, and that the MOMA show offers a helpful and instructive introduction to his thought.

After-afterthought: I see the inclusion of a Mona Lisa in a Johns is offered as an "homage" to Leonardo.  Wonder if Leonardo would see it that way.

1 comment:

The New York Crank said...

Oh fiddle faddle! I think the intent was simply to say that the viewer "must" complete the process to derive full enjoyment of, or engagement with, the work of art. True, you cannot be compelled to engage. You can even cover your eyes with your hands, have someone else stick her fingers in your ears, and yell "La la la, I'm not completing the freakin' creative process," until the security guards come and eject your from the museum.

Quibble quibble quibble, eh Mr. Underbelly?

Crankily yours,
The New York Crank