Saturday, July 20, 2013

Art reader's digest

"The Painted Word", by Tom Wolfe, 1975, is a delightful short book that should be read by anybody who's studied or read about the theories of modern and contemporary art -- I guarantee, you'll understand more from reading this book than you did from your art history teacher or from reading (or reading about) Clement Greenberg.  Yes, the references are 35 years out of date, but it is still TRUE!!  And funny.

Here's an excerpt:

The notion that the public accepts or rejects anything in Modern Art, the notion that the public scorns, ignores, fails to comprehend, allows to wither, crushes the spirit of, or commits any other crime against Art or any individual artist is merely a romantic fiction, a bittersweet Trilby sentiment.  The game is completed and the trophies distributes long before the public knows what has happened.  The public that buys books in hardcover and paperback by the millions, the public that buys records by the billions and fills stadiums for concerts, the public that spends $100 million on a single movie -- this public affects taste, theory, and artistic outlook in literature, music, and drama, even though courtly elites hand on somewhat desperately in each field.  The same has never been true in art.  The public whose glorious numbers are recorded in the annual reports of the museums, all those students and bus tours and moms and dads and random intellectuals ... are merely tourists, autograph seekers, gawkers, parade watchers, so far as the game of Success in Art is concerned.  The public is presented with a fait accompli and the aforementioned printed announcement, usually in the form of a story or a spread of color pictures in the back pages of Time.  An announcement, as I say.  Not even the most powerful organs of the press, including Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times, can discover a new artist or certify his worth and make it stick.  They can only bring you the news, tell you which artists the beau hamlet, Cultureburg, has discovered and certified.  They can only bring you the scores.

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