Tonight, I went to an opening at the the Plumas County Arts Commission Gallery in Quincy, California.
The work on exhibit was unexceptional, but at least the venue featured an intriguing price structure. Each print was available for the curious price of thirty-six dollars and twenty-six cents .
Excuse me, I asked the director, but how did you decide to sell work for thirty-six dollars and twenty-six cents?
With sales tax, she explained, the total comes to thirty-nine dollars and twenty-five cents.
I guess my next question would be why you chose a net cost of thirty-nine dollars and twenty-five cents.
Well, she said, that avoids the forty-dollar ouch factor, and it gives the buyer three quarters in change. Youd be surprised how many people want quarters for parking meters and washing machines and so on. Its a great little marketing device.
I didnt think much about thisor any otherart marketing strategy. Ive always taken Gertrude Steins position, A work of art is either priceless or worthless.
Andreas asked me to write a book review for his magazine, so I did.
I was intrigued by the title, The Eclipse of Art, Tackling the Crisis in Art Today. I thought the book might address the slippery nature of contemporary art that no longer fits into narrow, clearly-defined categories. That turned out to be more or less the theme of the book. Instead of celebrating new freedoms and horizons, the author lamentedat tedious lengththat Things Arent Nearly as Good as They Used to Be in The Good Old Days.
Since Andreas publishes a classy magazine, I had to write a somewhat professional and objective review. Thats why I like publishing my own writing; I can write in this notebook that The Eclipse of Art, Tackling the Crisis in Art Today is a hilarious diatribe. Any author who titles the introduction to his book Why you are right not to like modern art is clearly an exceptional observer.
That was the quick review; I sent the following version to Andreas.
The Eclipse of Art, Tackling the Crisis in Art Today is a timeless book for all the wrong reasons.
Julian Spalding comes from an ancient line of critics; his plaintive laments are as old as art criticism itself. Spalding revisits the eternal argument that these are dark days indeed for art. Hucksters, charlatans, and unscrupulous profiteers are casting a long, dark shadow over the truly worthy art that has been relegated to obscurity.
In the introduction, Why you are right not to like modern art, Spalding laments the chasm between the art being promoted in contemporary galleries and the art people like to hang on their walls at home. After forty years of observing contemporary art, the author confides that he has never met anyone who told me they loved modern art. Spalding concludes his indictment of so-called modern art, the self-indulgent plaything of a few, by positing that after the scales are peeled from ignorant eyes, everywhere art will begin to flower again.
Spalding uses a specious argument to explain why no one likes contemporary art. Modern art, by definition, is supposed to offend the public, so, one could argue, people are right to be offended by it. If modern art is really no good, then people are also right to be offended by it. So, whichever way you look at it, the public are right not to like modern art.
Spalding doesnt hesitate to assign blame. Jackson Pollock started the eclipse in the language of painting by abandoning the noble brush and pouring paint directly onto canvas, as if a demented spider. (Spalding reckons Pollock paid the price for his folly: ... when he had pushed his language as far as it could go, he started to drink again, heavily, and then fatally.)
In a similar vein, Spalding takes a dim view of Josef Albers statement, I want my art to be as neutral as possible. The author regards such an approach as nothing less than the death of art. Spalding goes on to trace this ignoble lineage to Damien Hirst, a prince of darkness if ever there was one.
I cant wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it, Hirst said. At the moment, if I did certain things, people would look at it, consider it, and then say fuck off. But after a while you can get away with things.
The author doesnt restrict his malediction to contemporary art. Spalding also revives an oldand almost universally discreditedargument by assuredly pronouncing that photography is not art. Photography is a mechanical process that need not go through a human mind at all. You do not make a photograph, you take it. Spalding applauds the example of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who, for the past quarter of a century ... has given up photography and has taken up drawing ... as a more creative activity.
Ultimately, Spalding does not make his case. His failure should not be attributed to his bizarre assumptions (Modern art, by definition, is supposed to offend the public) or his factual inaccuracies (Cartier-Bresson did not abandon photography twenty-five years ago). The reason The Eclipse of Art will fail to change anyones opinion about contemporary art is the authors demonstrable inability to appreciate any aesthetic less than fifty-years old.
Spalding snubs a nineteenth-century critic for failing to appreciate the new aesthetics of van Gough. Charles Merkis review has all the hallmarks of professional jealousy, of someone in the know wanting to cut another down to size. This is not the writing of an outsider who knows nothing of art, but of one whose taste is set in the art that he likes. The irony will not be lost on twenty-first century readers, who can only marvel that anyone but a bona fide hermit could spend four decades in the art world without meeting anyone who loves modern art.
Art is not dead, nor is it in eclipse, nor is there a crisis. As Marcel Duchampdismissed by Spalding as a failed painterobserved, There is no solution because there is no problem.