February 16, 2006

"Studied Ignorance" of Post-Conceptualists?

Earlier this week I waded into a discussion going on at Edward Winkleman's blog (http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com/2006/02/artist-of-week-021306.html) concerning whether a female artist's work was "minimalist" or not. After re-reading Liz Kotz's essay, Video Projection: The Space Between Screens, I was struck by her condemnation of Douglas Gordon's 24-Hour Psycho:

"Gordon's cultish ignorance of the avant-garde precedents that made his work possible furthers their institutional erasure."

which was footnoted nicely with:

"Particularly in the UK, a studied ignorance of the recent past seems to provide endless license to refashion viewer-friendly knockoffs in the present. While a degree of historical amnesia can sometimes free artists from blatant academicism, it also deprives them of the conceptual underpinnings of the strategies they use. . . Embracing ignorance, successful younger artists all too often demonstrate their complicity with these patterns of historical erasure."

This supports my previous post about that "minimalist" artist whose work I critiqued as being not indicative of Minimalism (proper) at all:

". . . those original Minimalists did provide a "conclusive" construct within which their concepts could be continued by others. Isn't this what is supposed to happen in art? Previous art forms and theories that pave exploratory pathways for succeeding generations should and ought to be continued, but with an authenticity to the originary principles, i.e. gestalt theory, phenomenology, even Fried's ironic critique of "theatricality". . . we can currently see a crop of recent art school grads who pillage, borrow and "recast" the earlier art concepts, yet don't add anything to the discourse or carry the original concepts forward. This is exactly why today's artists that are enamored of earlier styles like Minimalism or conceptual art must immerse themselves in the relevant art theories so that they can understand the ideas more fully, to make these earlier, historical art forms "live and breathe" again, rather than creating superficial "citations," or "style without substance."

My concern is that there seems to be also a "studied ignorance" afoot within art world discourse itself, with various art blogs, writers, critics, commentators offering up "judgments of taste" without stating clear positions on art issues at stake. If we can hope to open up an alternative "venue" for new art and artists like the Internet, then shouldn't we be prepared to establish it as a viable, valid and intellectually sound space for both aesthetics and theory?


Craig Webb said...

On the subject of video art, I think that the best I have seen is those that engage the visceral rather than narrative or cinematic. I saw the two listed below back in 2003 at SFMOMA. What made them particularly interesting was how the artist changed the usual perspective of how the view saw the screen.

Atom Egoyanís Close, a collaborative work with visual artist Juliao Sarmento, premiered at the 2001 Biennale di Venezia. The viewer experiences the video in close physical proximity to the screen in a narrow corridor. The projected image amplifies feet, hands and freshly clipped crescent-shaped toenails as, one by one, they fall delicately onto a woman's tongue. Atom Egoyan is an Egyptian-born Canadian filmmaker who began to explore the art and language of cinema while studying in Toronto. Egoyan's films delve into issues of intimacy and displacement along with examining the impact of technology and media on society.

Sleepers, by renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami was also shown at the 2001 Biennale di Venezia. It portrays a life-sized sleeping couple projected on the floor. The projection relies on a soundtrack of street noises that causes certain occurrences to take place within the couple" dreams. Abbas Kiarostami was the recipient of the San Francisco Film Societyís prestigious Akira Kurosawa Award in 2000. Sleepers is a part of the SFMOMA Media Arts permanent collection.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Mr. Webb: I appreciate your enthusiasm for the two video artists you cite, but if we subject them to the rigor of our "post-conceptualist" critique does it not point to a "studied ignorance?" In Kiarostomi's case, consider the early Warhol film, Sleep, which dealt with proto-typical conceptualist theories of temporality and ennui in a "deskilled" documentation. How does Kiarostomi's film extend these ideas? Are there new concepts at work here that over-ride or negate earlier video art issues?

Craig P. Webb said...

My problem with "studied ignorance" is that I think everyone is guilty of it. My wife is Phd student who has studied Habermas, quoted him, and easily admits that she remains unsure about terms like "Communcative Action." I have sat thru semesters of philosophy courses where the teacher has to go from Aristotle thru Hegel and has one class to condense what each philospher meant. This leads to such generalizations, especially with writers like Nietzsche who contradicted himself in each of his proceeding books by simple evolution of thought. As I have mentioned in class, I prefer the rhizomatic approach to art theory. I have reconciled my "studied ignorance" based on the concept that a hierarchical framework is an elitist myth. As an artist who has received a credentialed education, I have benefited from teachers pointing me to previous artists that may inform my work. Also, I uncovered through the happenstance of walking past a book in a window that my art had a degree of accord with the Uruguayan "Universalismo constructivo." I bought the book, have seen many images by artists associated with the group, but don't feel obliged to build off their ideas. Actually most of the members went of in ways that would be seen counter to their founding teacher's concepts. I agree an artist should be informed about the history of art, but no two artists will ever have the same exact knowledge base or influences.

"I distrust all systemizers and avoid them, the will to a system shows a lack of integrity," -Nietzsche

M. Cameron Boyd said...

The first step to achieving wisdom is admitting that you have none. -Socrates

I would never presume that we are not fallible, imperfect beings. Having said that, I could further speculate that we are all "guilty" of ignorance and, according to Socrates, are ennobled by this realization. We proceed . . .

You said you "prefer the rhizomatic approach to art theory" and you "have reconciled my "studied ignorance" based on the concept that a hierarchical framework is an elitist myth." First, this "rhizomatic approach" suggests you may believe in "roots" and if so why this aversion to previous histories? Second, for us to "mythologize" the "framework" of previous conceptual art history or any art history for that matter, as an "elitist" construct shouldn't absolve us from a healthy scrutiny of said hierarchies. If the "elites" have already proposed their hierarchy of "correct" interpretations, influence and reference then shouldn't we invest some energy in unraveling, rather than ignoring it?

Craig P. Webb said...

"History is written by the victors." - Churchill

I agree with the the need to have a foundation in the "established" structure. If I were a pure auto-didactic, I would not have $100,000 in student loans. History is written by the victors.

You are correct when you point out that I believe in the importance of "roots." I may even be guilty of giving to much credence to Jung's theories on archetypes. I think we can scrutinize the elitist constructs, but I feel obliged to point out that they are only mythologies. Joseph Beuy's built his fame on obfuscation and myth-making; who may do anything other than make guesses about what made him tick? As an artist, I can do a piece of work that is based on my stitched together concept of his work? Do I have to go farther back than the German Romantic movement of the 19th century to be fully informed? Who gets to tell me that is far enough? If my next jump in knowledge on the timeline is how important the worship of trees were to the Teutonic tribes? How much of such a considerable gap is a detriment to understanding "Why I love America, and America loves me?" How much of any of it really influenced Beuys? Maybe the most impressionable influence he had was some circus he went to when he was 3, and he admired the power of the ringmaster and Social Sculpture was just his way of getting the spotlight?

My qualm is when myths become dogma and it is THEN that the mind really stops questioning.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. - Napoleon

It is good to know that you have a firm grasp of these deconstructive techniques. When I refer to “history,” please understand that I approach all previous “knowledge” with a similar skepticism. This is what struck me about your “rhizomatic” interpretation of art theory, which put me in mind of Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge. Typically poststructuralist in his decisive and brutal reasoning, Foucault eliminates the binary oppositional thinking of the previous approach to language to proclaim that “discontinuity” is apparent in every discourse, including these discursive “histories” of which we speak. Your “root” interest in the investigation of art history caused my hibernating brainstem to recall Foucault’s ideas of seeking knowledge via whatever source both lateral and horizontal, hence the archaeological connection. Extending this comparison, one might suggest that our attempts to comprehend previous conceptual art theory may benefit from both the previously deficient “chains of inference” of the so-called “accepted” hierarchies, as well as utilizing Foucault’s concepts of the “dispersion of language.” This is not an attempt to discover the “meaning” of the artworks but to try to apprehend the “rules” that are specific to the discourse of conceptual art history.

josh said...

Don't think it's fair to apply the idea of a root to Craig's approach. Deleuze and Guattari go out of their way to distinguish between the two concepts "A rhizome as subterranean stem is absolutely different from roots and radicals. Bulbs and tubers are rhizomes. ....any point of a rhizome can be can be connected to anything other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order." (A Thousand Plateaus, pgs 6-7)

By this formulation (to extend the YBA phenom into architecture), Sir Norman Foster's architecture is every bit as important to Buckminster Fuller's as Fuller's is to Foster's. This is an exciting propostition intellectually - it gives a hell of a lot of power to the reader. I also don't buy into it (at least in this context) at all. Still, not sure if Craig wanted to go quite that far.

josh said...

and since I'm being hierarchical (grammar and punctuation excluded)- a little (honestly, like 3 minutes worth) context for those who want to ascribe fascist intentions to US foreign policy (however flawed [and I'll lay off the parentheticals now])


and yes I saw hitchens rebuke...but who cares what he says cause he's a fascist anyway...right?

Craig P. Webb said...

Josh I think you use the term Rhizome in the most appropriate way. I would ponder a bit though about whether I could truly be capable of having an absolute Rhizomatic approach. I think some of our sources are stronger than others, and I would have to say roots are the most appropriate term I could label them. I think my working class, mixed religious background made deep impressions on how I preceive the world. I think those of us that lack a homogeneous lineage, are more aware of the myth of the monolith, but still have a tether to our outsider perspective. Though I may be getting more psychological here than philosophical.

Also in regards to Facisim, I say Bush is more of a Falangist - just substitute the Catholicism with the Evangelical.

josh said...

nothing wrong with going psychological with art theory- worked for Lacan and I understand that we all carry perspectives we can't escape in practical reality.....I can live with Falangist, kind of a political Festivus

craig P. Webb said...

also worked for chaka khan:
"I Feel for You"

Craig P. Webb said...

Now MCB posits that "we can currently see a crop of recent art school grads who pillage, borrow and "recast" the earlier art concepts, yet don't add anything to the discourse or carry the original concepts forward."

As someone who is a adherent to conceptual art practices, explain to me (a simple printmaker) how your Ellsworth Kelly take-off broke thru this trap. To be clear, I was a fan of the piece. But maybe you could provide me with an illustrated example of how a soon to be grad avoided this pit-fall? Or are you a pillager? And would such a characterization even bother you?

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Apologies for getting in to this discussion late . . . Josh: I appreciate the clarification re: rhizome vs. root. Obviously, there are similaritites and differences in how this "approach" can be interpreted and your Deleuze citation helped with this distinction in terms of the "direction" and "intent" of sourcing.

Before we go further with the "Ellsworth Kelly take-off" talk, perhaps you can you send me an image of the work Criag refers to so I can post it?

josh said...

Don't think I have an image....are you referring to "Color Panels for Small Wall"? If so that was for a project in the beginning of junior year where we produced 10 works in a compressed time frame by matching a list of concepts and delivery systems. So this if I recall correctly was "historical genre" and "painting". We were to claim spots to install in white walls and when I showed up the only space left was on the far side of a column about 15 inches wide. (Most others had perhaps 4 feet). I refrabricated Ellsworth Kelly's "Color Panels for Large Wall" still on view in the atrium of the East Building of the National Gallery to fit this space. So the panels went from being maybe 4 ft wide to less than 3 inches wide, etc. I don't know that this is a piece I would have done in another context, I haven't really thought about it much since. In part I thought it was funny as a pun on the Kelly piece and a joke about the space I was forced to install in. A parallel did occur to me with the work of Richard Pettibone who appropriates classic works (generally by Pop masters) and refrabricates them perfectly on a tiny scale, tiny strechers, nails and all, at least in part re-presenting it as kitsch. The word kitsch comes from the German "verkitschen etwas" meaning to knock something off. If you think of classic kitsch, figurines, etc the is the obssesion with the maudlin and cute often achieved by shrinking the scale of things. I thought of the enervated intellectual realtionship between the original colorfield painters and the neo-colorfield painters who are much more fashionable. So depending on how generous you are feeling you could say that the piece was A.) guilty of the "studied ignorance" we are discussing -It's true I wasn't at all concerned withe the same things Kelly was B.) still guilty of borrowing Pettibone's concept without carrying the discourse forward (even though that parallel occurred to me after conceiving the piece) or C.) that I offered something approaching Kotz's critique more than a year before we began discussing it here. I don't really know what the answer is. I HAD been bothered for sometime before the project by the relationship (and gap in status) between "originating artists" and successive genrations who imitate them to more acclaim, perhaps especially in the case of colorfield. Kelly has a tangential relationship with colorfield though, and this was admittedly an offhand project. What do you think?

Kelly's piece in the National Gallery:

Richard Pettibone:

M. Cameron Boyd said...

I think we should re-establish Craig’s earlier question, if only to direct our discussions towards a “general” discourse, rather than a particular critique of an artwork, especially since Josh’s piece is not available for scrutiny. (Rule #1: Document all works.) Of course, through memory it may take on an added “mythology,” but we will see.

Craig characterizes Josh as an “adherent to conceptual art practices,” which is a reasonable assumption given Josh’s past works and thoughts expressed in class discussions. Craig also refers to one of my quotes, excised from a previous post at another blog (http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com/2006/02/artist-of-week-021306.html) about an artist’s work and whether it was “minimalist.” The reason I re-used my own quote here on TNOW was to extend this topic into a discussion on this idea of “studied ignorance,” which is attributed to Liz Kotz (TNOW text, p. 113). Again, we should address the core of Craig’s question which is how can a beginning, “soon to be grad” artist appropriate a previous work of art (Ellsworth Kelly’s Color Panels for a Large Wall, 1978) and “carry the original concepts forward?”

Acts of appropriation have been variously defined as a critical “re-framing” of artistic presentation, “signs” cut from their original contexts or (my personal favorite by John Welchman) “ghosts in front of a mass grave of stolen images.” If we accept the fact that appropriation re-forms a quoted sign as a “referent” then the use of another work or image in your own work is a concern with representation itself. The appropriative action, usually credited first to Marcel Duchamp, became general art world currency with Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Sturtevant, Barbara Kruger and others, who extended the idea of “referents” into other areas concerning origins, authenticity, “low” versus “high” culture, etc. Appropriation becomes particularly useful in a “social” or “political” use context because of this investigative nature.

Without requiring a specific artwork to illustrate this point, we can be certain that the act of “re-framing” a previous work or image ought to be viewed as “post-conceptual,” both historically and theoretically. Miniaturization of artwork has been explored before, by Duchamp, Mike Bidlo and Richard Pettibone, but if we surmise that Josh’s tactic of reducing the scale of his piece was a practical solution to the available space, then “re-presenting it as kitsch” would have to be judged as a productive “accident.” Although Josh readily admits he “wasn’t at all concerned with the same things Kelly was,” and he further acknowledges his “borrowing Pettibone’s concept without carrying the discourse forward,” part of the success of this now vacant work would seem to be these two personal realizations by Josh, which I hope came up during the class critique of the actual piece. Art making is nothing if not a process, in this case a process of self-discovery, theory and historicity.

josh said...

None of this was discussed in critique. The piece was generally well received- I think in part because it rested on already digested practice. Pieces being part of an active discourse isn't a perspective that I would say tends to get pursued in our critiques. From my experience -working conceptually- the incentive from our critiques has been to make works of studied ignorance- the more the works rest on establish practice, the easier it is for the teachers to "file" a work. The easier it is for them to "file" a work the better disposed they tend to be torward

Craig P. Webb said...

I'd have to second Josh's comment about the established practice of critiques in the Junior and Sophmore year. If you can fit into a category, the easier it is for them to grasp. There is no prodding to add to the dialog, but rather mimic, and therefore be considered a good doobie. The early years encourage art school clones that may go onto New York and be third tier hacks of what was hot 10 years ago. Oh of course, after they go to Yale for more indoctrination.

josh said...

This starts to loop back to the orignal discussion of models of art school education......I recall that Mike Anderson wrote a comment but wasn't able to post it; perhaps this is place......

craig P. Webb said...

Ah the viscious cycle -
well starting small - I think Junior Core could use an academic voice within the team teachers.

josh said...

I'll see your junior core and raise you sophmore and senior core.

Craig P. Webb said...

In regards to Sophmore Core: Are you suggesting their is more to conceptual art than Idea Generation? You are starting to sound like MCB. (wink wink, nudge nudge).

josh said...

not sure exactly what you're driving at.......

craig P. Webb said...

Just being sarcastic about how 50 works was supposed to stimulate the creative function aka idea generation. But that production line mentality doesn't really leave any room for building upon concepts. So if Sophmore Core's main project is nothing more than "recasting," it fits in with MCB's comment that art school doesn't prod students to bring concepts forward. My underlying angst that brought up this line of thinking is that the Sophmore Core curriculum was a hybrid with some teachers' stressing Conceptual approaches, but others kind of just going through the paces. So this leads me back to the previous thread entitled "Academy, Bauhaus or Advanced?"
4 years at the Corcoran, and I feel that I didn't have the option of a course track that would have allowed me to take as many technical courses to be proficient in my printmaking concentration. So I ask, does Sophmore year even need a Core class? Shouldn't art schools like the Corcoran give more time for courses LIKE the intro to printmaking and sculpture that they already offer? Maybe your perspective might be the other extreme - Concept from the get-go? I don't have an answer - but I'm not satisfied with the status quo.

josh said...

I'd make a distinction between developing concepts one the one hand- either new ones or carrying forward an existing dialogue and on the other hand just executing pieces based on concepts that already exist without adding anything to the dialogue.

That said I think one day a week of core would be plenty with the other time devoted to classes that teach techniques, be they manual or intellectual.

michael Anderson said...

Since there aren’t any stipulations or required credentials to be had for a practicing “fine artist” why should the art school curriculum be as structured and proscribed as those of other disciplines that do require such? There really isn’t any necessary information an artist must have, so why must an artist be required to study certain subjects or disciplines that may or may not supplement or reinforce their own interests? The idea of an artist (career-wise) is fairly abstract (in relation to the basic needs of man) and therefore should warrant a fairly abstract and flexible academic structure.
I think the student should design his/her own curriculum. He should have the ability to steer his education in the direction of his own artwork. Maybe core should be significantly condensed into a 2-hour period of pure discussion leaving the use of the studio up to your own discretion. Which would allow many students to make more efficient use of that time.
But anyway here is the post Josh was referring to above pertaining to critique:

Considering that much of our conversation during our first presentation revolved around the shortcomings of our crits and other qualms associated with them, I think it deserves a little attention. Has art evolved past such informal and unfocused criticism? Has the effectiveness of the form of crit we know expired? Is it obsolete? Or maybe it needs a new title, a new framework. Maybe its time for a new form of discussion in which to address art. Subjective, opinionated conversation seems as though it will never satisfy the artist (or the participants) nor solidify the content of the piece and its aspirations. Maybe a more structured approach? Maybe a form of discussion more closely resembling a debate? Perhaps something more pure, somehow more focused, isolated from the group so that comments will lack the influence of peer pressure. It seems such a subjective, unfocused approach is destined to spiral off onto slippery slopes and only further frustration and confusion. Does the crit need to be amended, totally revamped, or abolished for the introduction of a new form?
In terms of legitimacy, validity and relevance, is there any real critique other than the self-critique? Isn’t trying to have another understand one’s work and its aspirations, and then criticize those objectives absolutely absurd since one could never fully imagine another’s personal perceptions and intentions? One can only really know their own shortcomings and even then probably not fully or decisively.
Like many have said the crit is more or less an insight into ones peers. And an appeasement for the ego of the artist. So i suppose my question is what is the function of the crit?
This question also falls right into line with the question of what model the school should adopt, considering that the mode of critique would obviously be an extension of the schools ideological model. So I may be putting the cart in front of the horse here.

josh said...

I am also sympathetic to the idea that schools having ideological models is obsolete- instead there should be teachers that reflect a wide range of practice and the student charts his/her own course. Ironically, this would be more genuinely non-hierarchical than the deconstructionist models- or let's say more genuinely rhizomatic to tie things back to the top of the thread.

josh said...

Incidentally, what model do you think this school follows?


M. Cameron Boyd said...

Welcome, Michael. I believe that some supplementary information or disciplinary knowledge is a necessary requirement in our art school model. This is assuming that a person either is, or wants to be, a practicing artist that can make a “significant” contribution to the discourse of art. Yes, the idea of having a career as an “artist” is functionally “abstract,” but there is more to this career than showing a profit. To be more than a successful business model, to offer substantive ideas to the world of art, this artist must ostensibly be “original” in thought and practice, and to attain true originality, artists must know what has come before, i.e., art history, movements and theories. I am not expressing a “belief” here in the concept of an “original idea,” only a hope that it is still worth seeking.

What is the purpose of a “critique?” By your definition, this would appear to be “informal and unfocused,” and I have no doubt that this is probably the standard. It is up to you to provide the “new framework” for a productive criticism of your work. These conversations naturally derive from a subjective opinion because the “speaking subject” can clearly only be subjective. If you forfeit your “satisfaction” too easily, however, then you may not be able to “solidify” the goals of your critique. As for “self-critique,” this is legitimately the only way we formulate the “original,” by relating our personal contribution to the historicity of which I spoke earlier. Is it “valid” or “relevant?” Absolutely, but you still need the objective views, the perceptions of “others,” to truly position your work and its “meaning,” to give it “place.” True, one can “never fully imagine another’s personal perceptions and intentions,” but art is not about that kind of perfection. A critique ought to be more about knowing “decisively” what your contribution is or can be.

Josh supports your idea of the obsolescence of an “ideological model” for an art school. To administer an ideology an institution must be completely structured from the top down. The art school model is rife with the individualism which allows the far-reaching practice of its professors, yet the hierarchy exists within the “degree plan,” for this is "where the rubber meets the road," so to speak.

Craig P. Webb said...

The current format of critiques only have cursory effects that bare mentioning. It gives the artist an awareness of how a thin segment of other artists may perceive your work and thereby give you a heads-up about their personel their subjective mine-fields. On the positive side it could also make you aware of ideas you are unconsciously projecting. Aside from this it is an exercise in public speaking and emanating an aura of charismatic competence. We all know that if you take the same piece of art and have the annoited "art-stars" of the class present it - at least in sophmore and junior year- the grade would drastically change.

I'm particularly in favor of how the Massachusetts College of Art has there studio classes as Pass/Fail. This causes some problem with Grad School applications but it makes more sense. How do you honestly gauge whether one artist's production is B+ while the other is an A-? A core critique class should be what is presently derided as "double-dipping." One should take the classes they choose, do that work, then come in with said work for a feedback session.

Now putting this rant aside I do favor an independently formulated curriculum path. But saying that, I think that the first few semesters should be geared to opening the students world to processes and techniques that they may have never experienced. Many high-schools have a pathetic excuse, if any at all, of an art program. So the incoming freshman would not ever have had the chance to find out how much they love wielding an arc welder across a sheet of metal. Once they are exposed than they should be free to explore this medium in the following years to the fullest. Being a printmaker, I was absolutely frustrated when I was told that I had to match a list of topics with a list of mediums - fine give me a topic and I'll show you my interpretation - but within the medium that I want to master.

I do question the term originality. One can say that it is original to the mind of the artist, as long as they are ignorant of what has come before, and therefore a virginal interpretation. Now it may not add to the discourse, but certainly it is a sign of growth in the individual. Which would you value more - the child that can regurgitate the lesson on Newton and the apple - or the kid who drops two objects and stumbles upon the idea by him or herself? Now it is up to school to let them now they are not the first - agreed - but isn't education at its best when it teaches how to learn? The accumulation of facts is wasteful if one does not have the tools to put them in action. This is truly the cart in front of the horse. The question is still what would the model that would best facilitate a holistic approach look like?

michael Anderson said...

I think the problem is that the school lacks a thorough variety of focused academic classes. There are plenty of survey classes yet a scarcity of classes focused on particular schools of thought and practices. I think there should be a couple broad introductory courses, which we do have, followed by a surplus of academic electives closely examining particular bodies of thought, practices, etc. And every major camp of thought should be available each semester. This obviously would require an expansion of our academic dept. but a student should be able to deeply probe whichever established path their art is further paving, with credit.

michael Anderson said...

For instance I had wanted to take Mark's "Minimalism/Post-Minimalism" class but was unable due to the need for an additional academic to graduate. And the academic i chose in addition to "theory now" was incidentally "contemporary art", chronicling art from modernism to the 80's. Nothing really new obviously but it was the only other desirable class that wasnt closed. A perfect example of how our poor academic selection has hindered my artistic progress.