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Topic: The Value of Art
Replies: 98   Pages: 7   Last Post: Nov 15, 2005 11:44 PM by: Ray Rolfe

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Glenn Gordon

Posts: 2
Registered: Jan 27, 2005
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 27, 2005 8:40 PM
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Thanks to all who participated in this in real time while I lurked.

I participated in a discussion of Galensonís article and the transcript of an interview by Dave Hickey on the same subject last week with a group of artists, philosophers, and academics. Some of the people were affronted by what they felt was Galensonís raw or crass or humanly diminished way of estimating artistic value. As an artist trying to get by, I think the questions raised by Galensonís article and by Hickeyís subversive affection for the mercantile mechanics of the art world merit more candid discussion and perhaps less indignation.

Ann Klefstad, the artist and writer who suggested the readings to the discussion group did so in order to question "the euphemistic relation of art discourse to life in the artworld as a producer [herself]". This art discourse can hardly bring itself to use the word "money" in polite company. When we must talk about money as a manure necessary for the growth of art, the euphemism we use is "funding," thereby deodorizing the problem and wafting us safely back to the transcendent contemplation of higher matters.


The reaction of some in the group when money and market-determined status was proposed as a truthful mode of valuation was, as I said, to grab their skirts and reach for smelling salts. Even if this mode of valuation is callous, morally repugnant, empty in some core human way, the indignation at Hickey's clear-eyed candor and Galenson's detached observation of reputation struck me as absurd, in part because the "disinterested" academy itself, it seems to me, is in bed with the callow gallerists and cynical artist/careerists, the market-driven forces whose workings it purports to deplore.

For artists, the money/art perplex is chronically excruciating, and for most, always will be. There seems to be an underlying sense of entitlement in most artists. There almost has to be; it's of a piece with the presumption that we have something of unusual value to offer. Unlike doctors, lawyers, and theologians, however, we are self-appointed and self-annointed: we are shamans or seers or flanneurs or whatever. That the wider culture doesn't reflexively share this conviction of our value wounds us, of course, naturally; it alienates us and makes some of us go haywire. But this is where state-supported art canít really help us. Art is not really an arena where the risk-averse belong. If itís turned into a protected pony-ride, it is made trivial, even more superfluous to this culture than it already is.

I think Ann Klefstad was right in an observation she made that economic survival as an artist could have a great deal to do "with whatÖ artists are able to do with charisma" -- Madonna, de Kooning, Disney, Matthew Barney, Tom Waits... how they present themselves is part and parcel of their successful presence in the marketplace and crucial to their continuing survival. At least if the ambition is to achieve global fame. Until the middle of the last century, and for all the eons before that, the only way an artist could gain support was through doing work too good to ignore (the sorrow is that sometimes the support pours in only after they are dead.) The estimation of a work's economic value doesn't consist (and this is my argument against entitlement and state support) in having done it, in merely being a committed practitioner (which some today consider a virtue in itself), but in others' sense of how much or little of a treasure the work is (and by "others" I donít mean gatekeepers, insular curators alone.) In my opinion, inducing or arousing that sense is ultimately the artist's responsibility, not "the culture's" (whatever is meant by that). In the solitary arts, if not the collaborative ones, I donít think handwringing over the dearth of institutional support gets us very far. For this reason, as a sometime critic, I'm less concerned to be an "arts advocate" (a term of bureaucracy) than to be an advocate for certain artists and certain works, one by one.

Kathleen Kvern

Posts: 38
Registered: Jul 8, 2004
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 27, 2005 9:30 PM
  Reply

Robert, I have to laugh at this! I actually have grown quite fond of these forum conversations since you can have a glass of wine, some dinner, and put your kid to bed, yet still be at the party!
I hope to convert more people to this type of discourse (the online type) who love the arts and have something they want to talk about.
thanks again for your comments and support of mnartists.org.

Robert Jensen

Posts: 13
Registered: Jan 25, 2005
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 28, 2005 1:37 PM
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Glenn,
I was glad to learn that Galenson's work is getting discussed somewhere. He (and I) have been publishing on this material for a number of years now and until recently have gotten nothing for our troubles but deafening silence (outside a small number of economists). Galenson would concur I think pretty much with everything you say here. He might--I might--want to strengthen the artist's role in all this and also to supplement your conception of artistic activity and innovation to what might once have been called extra-aesthetic activities (except that aesthetics is now pretty irrelevant everywhere), such as promotion, "charisma" and so on. My specialty is the late 19th century art world, and there I can find plenty of examples (if in less extreme forms) of the same symptoms you describe here, and the same successful formulaes for managing artistic success. We would also insist, and this artists might be most offended by, that artistic activity is no different in kind from any form of intellectual activity. I think getting past that delusion would be liberating.
For anyone interested in what we're talking about you can begin by going down to your local college library and picking up a copy of Galenson's Painting Outside the Lines (Harvard U. Press, 2001). Or you can visit the website NBER.org, where David (and I) have published a large number of working papers. The abstracts for these papers can be searched simply by typing in Galenson's name. The full texts are available as downloadable pdf files at $5 a shot. David also has several books coming out late this year or early next, one with Routledge and one with Princeton.

Michael Fallon

Posts: 201
Registered: Jul 3, 2003
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 28, 2005 2:28 PM
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Ann Klefstad

Posts: 95
Registered: Nov 29, 2002
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 28, 2005 5:52 PM
  Reply

Robert Jensen wrote: >"My specialty is the late 19th century art world, and there I can >find plenty of examples (if in less extreme forms) of the same >symptoms you describe here, and the same successful >formulaes for managing artistic success. We would also insist, >and this artists might be most offended by, that artistic activity is >no different in kind from any form of intellectual activity. I think >getting past that delusion would be liberating."

I'm not sure if "artistic activity is no different from any form of intellectual activity," but I'd be very interested in a kind of Wittgensteinian look at the family resemblances among making activities of all kinds. I did a piece for "line" --a newsprint publication put out by Soo VAC gallery--on art's relation to toys and games, which is part of a longer projected piece called "Art and Its Analogues," that's meant to start looking at this stuff descriptively.

I'm very interested in looking carefully at how art is part of a larger world of making and thinking. Its primary difference, I think, from most kinds of intellection is that it really insists on being embodied--that is, it's not ideas, it's matter that uses some part of its nature to body forth something like an idea. The more art is pure idea the more it tends to bore. Reading a book by Mark Rothko right now that tends to confirm me in this feeling.

What I mean, I think, is that an artwork stands somewhere between its maker's intention and the richness of its materials, whether those materials are mute or articulate. It isn't subsumed or explained by intention.

Message was edited by: Ann Klefstad at Jan 28, 2005 5:53 PM

Message was edited by: Ann Klefstad at Jan 28, 2005 9:53 PM


Sam Spiczka

Posts: 1,671
From: Sartell, MN
Registered: Jul 20, 2001
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 28, 2005 6:23 PM
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> The more art is pure idea the more it
> tends to bore. Reading a book by Mark Rothko right
> now that tends to confirm me in this feeling.
>
> What I mean, I think, is that an artwork stands
> somewhere between its maker's intention and the
> richness of its materials, whether those materials
> are mute or articulate. It isn't subsumed or
> explained by intention.

Well put, Ann. Often the more conceptual or idea-oriented a work, the more it feels like the diagram for a philosophical, political, or sociological argument. Lacking self-suffiency, they are incapable of holding my attention beyond a first glance.

James Michael Lawrence

Posts: 134
Registered: Jan 3, 2004
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 29, 2005 9:41 AM
  Reply

"Art is subjective. It only has meaning if we assign meaning to it. I refuse to do so. Iím not concerned with interpretations or critiques - my own or those of anyone else - what I am concerned about is my entering into the creative act...doing the work."

A year ago, I was all balled up in still attempting to decorate the intent of my work with some pretty high-handed (but ultimately lame) quasi-philosophical/conceptual/spiritual meanings. I was still saying one thing but obviously doing another visually. Foolishly, I thought I needed to 'explain' my art to a public that - in retrospect - certainly didn't need explanations. I've come to see that all that 'decoration' was creating confusion for a viewer and establishing a wall between the works and their experiencing them. I was demanding that the determination of any 'meaning' in them was for me to decide. A year later, I look at that stance as totally ridiculous. I also see how I was putting incredible pressure upon myself - by attempting to layer every single aspect of my creative acts with ponderous/pompous intellectual weight. This resulted in ego-bruises when the world was unwilling to buy into my game-plan. I was nonchalantly remaining self-deluded over the obvious fact that it is the individual viewer who determines the ultimate meaning or non-meaning of an artwork. In the end, the 'value' of my art is going to always be one thing for me and perhaps quite another thing for others. For myself, the value now lays within the 'doing' it - the creative act itself. I think this has always been so and would have been obvious to me in the past, had I been able to look past my ego/intellectual pretensions. As to the value of my art beyond my personal actions/participation/duty to it - I'm content to let others determine that for themselves - I cannot control it. I no longer want or need to attempt it. That's a job for the public.

Ray Rolfe

Posts: 3,263
From: Northeast Minneapolis
Registered: Sep 5, 2001
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Jan 29, 2005 6:22 PM
  Reply

Here is my hidden contrabution from SEPTEMBER of 2003

Re: Literary Arts
Posted: Sep 22, 2003 4:40 AM
† Reply

Heres something.
I was E-mailing the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs inquiring about some leadership in city planing courses they offer. They asked me to tell about myself and why I was interested. And I don't know, I might have said something like 'I'm an artist interested in influencing city planing through visionary art." I don't think I told them that much but.....
So, new on the reading list, "The Artistic Dividend: The Arts Hidden Contributions to Regional Development" (!).
By who? Ann and Dave from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.......
When? JULY 2003. It's practically hot off the press. So I will enjoy a cover to cover gleaning of this study. It could be a case of reaping what I sow.
...interesting.....
R*R
Read this wealth
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=the+artistic+dividend .

Ann Klefstad

Posts: 95
Registered: Nov 29, 2002
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Feb 1, 2005 9:33 AM
  Reply

James-- this is a harrowingly honest and very interesting take on the experience of doing art, something that's private but destined to be public, something that is done to be seen and read by others over whom you have no control, something that's done for reasons often entirely different from the reasons that its viewers value it. Dave Hickey notes about art that is lasting that it allows many often radically different interpretations of itself--that, for instance, we can't and don't see a Pollack painting like Pollack did, that if we did we likely would hate it. That great art opens itself to, allows, many readings and uses of itself--and that 's one of the criteria of great, or at least lasting, artwork.

I think your instincts are right here.

John Orth

Posts: 37
Registered: Feb 2, 2005
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Feb 2, 2005 9:41 AM
  Reply

Dear Ann,
With respect to your subject I wish to point out that "Pollock" is the proper spelling for the name of the artist I think you refer to.
However, you may be referring to an artist to whom I am not familiar, and in that case I apologize for my error.
Best Wishes,
John Orth

Ann Klefstad

Posts: 95
Registered: Nov 29, 2002
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Feb 2, 2005 10:52 AM
  Reply

Hey John-- good to hear from you! You're absolutely right. Jeez. And I was a proofreader once . . .

John Orth

Posts: 37
Registered: Feb 2, 2005
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Feb 2, 2005 3:11 PM
  Reply

Anne,
Thanks for being a good sport, I hope at some point to be able to say something more thoughtful than detail criticism. I thought your speculation model (Pollock hating a particular painting) to be stimulating. The idea of an emotional relationship between the creator and painting is intriguing to me.
I enjoy reading what people write. Some of these people, like you, I have met offline, or online in a different site. I thought it would be good to write something, put myself on the line a bit. Incidentally, The University of Iowa Art Museum has a large Jackson Pollock painting in its collection in case people are visiting near Iowa City. I am not aware that there is a large Pollock painting in a museum in Minnesota, but would surely be interested to know if and where one might be.
John Orth

John Orth

Posts: 37
Registered: Feb 2, 2005
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Feb 2, 2005 8:32 PM
  Reply

Dear Michael Fallon,
At some point I should hope to make your acquaintance. I heard you read some of your work, reflections upon on seeing a head of the emperor Constantine, during a reading for a publication that briefly existed then faded.
I found the forum on the value of art a bit late, but thought it intriguing. I read your suggested City Pages article, thought it a great effort in a tricky area of economic value. I think it is the best subject I have yet seen on the web site.
I am struggling with the format of this site, I have difficulty finding the thread, responding to people in proper order and so hope this finds you.
With Regard,
John Orth

Robert Jensen

Posts: 13
Registered: Jan 25, 2005
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Feb 4, 2005 7:23 AM
  Reply

I find I have to respond to Ann Klefstad's notion that art is not ideas, that art must be embodied to really matter. Creative writers are, I would hope you agree, artists, and their material is words. Filmmakers are another kind of artist, but all we have materially of their work are spectors flickering on our screens. The medium structures but I don't think is the message.
We ought to be careful not to romanticize the artist. It prevents thinking clearly about what artists do and why we should value their labor. What I am prepared to concede is that human beings have innate desires to decorate, to ornament, to aestheticize the world they inhabit. But this is quite a different thing than this specific activity we have today called art, which after all, is not a thing, but a set of complex, strictly cultural and historical arguments about things.
I know there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the conceptual art that has dominated the international art world since the late 1960s. Its very success, however, indicates the power conceptually-derived art practices has in today's world. For one thing, the conceptual tradition has, I think, made contemporary art a truly global enterprise, because it has been far easier for individuals to make significant contributions from what would have been a generation ago the extreme backwoods. Conceptual work, as opposed to work based in material practices, is much easier to communicate and quickly traverses regional and linguistic boundaries. But I would not quarrel with Ann's belief that a lot of this art is boring. Its very communicative speed means that there is little left over for traditional aesthetic contemplation.
I am unsure whether highly conceptual work necessarily exhausts the possibilities of the aesthetic response. I know only that it often does. However, Rothko represents the last generation of modern artists to make paradigm-transforming work thoroughly grounded in an experimental, craft-based enterprise. Rothko and his contemporaries all matured late (compared to the conceptual artists who thrive today) and received late recognition. The market values the later work over the earlier work. The reverse holds true today, where any smart collector buys as near to an artist's breakthrough work as she can--usually work made within five to ten years of graduating from art school--and most celebrated artists' careers are effectively over by the time they reach their mid-thirties. Will a contemporary variant of Rothko's experimental, material-oriented practices ever come to change the face of contemporary art? I hope so, but I have not seen any indication so far. We should be looking for older artists--more or less in the mold of Cezanne--who somehow address contemporary problems, conceptual, intellectual problems, through material solutions. It happened with the Impressionists' defeat of the academic tradition; it happened with the Abstract Expressionists. The question is, in a media-dominated global society such as ours, can it happen again?

Michael Fallon

Posts: 201
Registered: Jul 3, 2003
Re: The Value of Art
Posted: Feb 4, 2005 8:49 AM
  Reply

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