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« Blogaversaries | Main | Stones Memories »

April 14, 2008

Cindy Sherman Is Simpler Than the Intellectuals Imagine (And So Is Most Art)

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

When the photographer Cindy Sherman made her Untitled Film Stills back around 1980, critics and academics dreamed up all kinds of hyperintellectual arguments to tell us what she was really up to in the photos. Since Sherman was both in these sorta-recreations of iconic "female" images and in charge of them, we were given to understand by the experts that Sherman was -- at the least -- criticizing "power," undermining sex roles, and making numerous weighty feminist and theoretical points.

Fun to learn then -- from a quick interview with New York magazine -- that Sherman in fact put nothing of what the critics saw in them into her photographs. Theory? Nope. Feminist points? Not a one. In fact, Sherman explains, the photos mainly arose out of her feelings about dressing up in costumes and putting on makeup.

Hey, quel surprise: She's an artist, and not an intellectual who just happens to be expressing her wickedly complex theoretical structures through, weirdly enough, photography. A great passage from a recent Shouting Thomas comment:

To reiterate... musicians aren't very bright. If they were, they wouldn't be musicians ... The same is true for just about all artists. If they had any sense, they wouldn't be artists.

I'm reminded of a funny crack uttered by the much-missed Vanessa del Blowhard some years back about developments in downtown theater. There was a stretch in the '90s when edgy theater artists were showcasing garish colors, laughtracks, snappy pacing, game-show formats and such. The critics were treating themselves to a field day explaining that what these deep, complex, and (as always) "critical" artists were up to was subverting our media-drenched assumptions with their media-based strategies. Vanessa, who actually hung out with a number of these actors and directors, laughed and said to me, "What nonsense. These kids are creating theater pieces that resemble live versions of television because TV is what they really like. They like TV, and they want the theater they create to be like TV."

Incidentally, I rather enjoy Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills -- I'm not putting her down. I'm having a chuckle at the fabrications of intellectuals, and I'm wondering why, where the arts go, anyone cuts critics and intellectuals any slack at all. A life free of their theories, rationalizations, and projections can be such a pleasingly straightforward thing, can't it?

Incidentally: Girls' love of trying on clothes, experimenting with makeup, and posing in front of mirrors and cameras -- well, if I were in the culture-observing game, I'd venture the thought that it's one of the most powerful forces at large in culture today. That's pretty simple, isn't it?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at April 14, 2008




Comments

You'd almost think that men and women were (gasp!) different in some important ways!

Hah! I loved Sherman's comment about feminist/po-mo theorizing--"I wasn't aware of that at all."

Perfect!

Posted by: PatrickH on April 14, 2008 3:42 PM



I think artists' intentions are almost never correctly guessed by an audience, be they critics, intellectuals, casual observers, whoever. In my view, that's not the point anyway. Good art should evoke multiple interpretations. People bring their own life experiences to things, which color their view on everything, including art. It's the reason most artists refuse to explain their work, for fear of predisposing people's reactions to it.

Again, I think you're just gunning for the intellectual crowd, here. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't think you're proving them wrong in this case. It's a perfectly legitimate viewpoint to view Sherman's work as a critique on female tropes, because she's obviously borrowing from the way media, movies in particular, portray women, by reenacting in some cases some pretty iconic filmic roles.

Of course, it's just as legitimate to just dig the way she dresses or the art direction in her pics, or a million other things.

For me, the almost infinite ways that people respond to art is half the fun of art itself. I'd hate to lose that in favor of a "correct" interpretation only.

Posted by: JV on April 14, 2008 3:42 PM



PatrickH -- You would, wouldn't you? Give a boy a camera and he'll shoot photos of girls. Give a girl a camera, and she'll shoot photos of herself.

JV -- May a million interpretations and experiences flourish, of course. But let's face it: the critical-intellectual one 1) is often based on nothing but what the critics and intellectuals are talking about that day, and 2) gets an awful lot of unwarranted respect.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 14, 2008 3:52 PM



Just wanted to add: I think a more interesting question is whether the intentions of an artist are important or not to the enjoyment and/or judgment of the work.

Posted by: JV on April 14, 2008 3:53 PM



JV -- Always a fun question to bat around, god knows. FWIW, in my experience, artists' intentions are also often much simpler than they're made out to be. I wouldn't be surprised if Cindy Sherman's intention in making the Untitled Film Stills was to get noticed and establish a career, for instance.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 14, 2008 4:00 PM



"1) is often based on nothing but what the critics and intellectuals are talking about that day"

I agree, and I think that's almost the sole criteria of art that stands the test of time. It's infinitely adaptable to the vagaries of the human condition. New generations of art lovers always bring their own twists to the same old questions.

"2) gets an awful lot of unwarranted respect"

I'll give you that one.

Posted by: JV on April 14, 2008 4:00 PM



"I wouldn't be surprised if Cindy Sherman's intention in making the Untitled Film Stills was to get noticed and establish a career, for instance."

I think that's the prime motivator of 99% of artists. So the question is, how to get noticed? Usually, the answer is to create art that resonates with people somehow, be it to shock them, make them think, etc. I really don't believe there's a contradiction between an artist's intent to get noticed and an appreciator's reaction that goes way above and beyond that intent. In fact, I love that about art.

Posted by: JV on April 14, 2008 4:25 PM



It's interesting to note that the new movie about Cindy Sherman (www.guestofcindysherman.com) uses this Goethe quote as the intro to the film: "Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking. "

Posted by: FastForward on April 14, 2008 4:51 PM



It is only since the Romantic Era that the question of "the artist's intention" (whatever the heck that means) is supposed to be dominant consideration in interpreting a work of art. I would argue that the more important "intention" in art, both historically and today, is that of the patron or purchaser of the art. The creative details of the Acropolis complex may have belonged to a variety of artists, but the guiding vision damn sure belonged to Pericles. Julius II was clearly the dominant inspiration for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, not Michelangelo. The Hapsburgs stand behind the Counterreformation Baroque as the defenders of the true and Catholic faith. Etc., etc., etc.

Granted, today, the "patronage" of a work of art is a bit more diffuse, being often corporate -- either financial-corporate for pop art or social-corporate for the culture-mafia, but it still exists and is catered to. Cindy Sherman may have not analyzed all of her posing and gendering in the light of postmoderism, but on some level she knew her audience sho' nuff would take it that way.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 14, 2008 5:17 PM



A life free of their theories, rationalizations, and projections can be such a pleasingly straightforward thing, can't it?

I think every group has a kind of conversational medium unique to that group, like different forms of shop talk. For academics and certain critics, it's those theories and other high-brow wool gathering. Hey, everybody needs a hobby.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on April 14, 2008 5:18 PM



Oh, come on, this is silly. It's very simplistic to say that a theoretical interpretation is some kind of a guess at an artist's conscious intentions. Even if Cindy Sherman thought only that she was playing dress-up, her version of playing "dress-up" is going to be very different from that of a woman from another time or another society who was shaped by a different culture. And the reasons for that are almost infinitely complex and tell you a great deal about the culture.

The critics were were treating themselves to a field day explaining that what these deep, complex, and (as always) "critical" artists were up to was subverting our media-drenched assumptions with their media-based strategies. Vanessa, who actually hung out with a number of these actors and directors, laughed and said to me, "What nonsense. These kids are creating theater pieces that resemble live versions of television because TV is what they really like.

And it tells you a lot that a rising generation of theatre artists love and have been shaped by TV, to the point where they find it perfectly natural to abandon traditional theatrical techniques of presentation to adopt television ones. There will be conflicts and complexities that arise in that, and it will subvert a lot of assumptions about theatre and TV, even if the director's sole motivation is to repeat the Brady Bunch episodes that hypnotized him when he was a kid.

Posted by: mq on April 14, 2008 7:09 PM



Our culture tends to honor the intellectual and verbal while distrusting the experiential and sensual. Look at the quote you used from Shouting Thomas. It basically insults artists and musicians for failing to be intellectuals. I'm unclear why you would use and applaud this view in a post that has, as its main thrust, how clueless intellectuals can be about what is actually going on with art.

Most visual artists are (quelle surprise!) visual not verbal/conceptual thinkers. That is a very different thing than the idea that they "aren't very bright". One painter I know titled a piece "More Than I Can Say" as an allusion to the notion that what he wanted to convey couldn't be said in words. Visual artists also tend to be more concerned with issues of craft than intellectual concepts. Certainly in the past few decades a plethora of art school graduates who have embraced conceptualist content over craft and visual concerns have entered the fray, but that (one can only hope) is a post modernist aberration that will burn itself out.

What generally happens is an artist ... Cindy Sherman ... makes images that please her and give her craft problems to solve. They get on the wall of a gallery and strike a chord in viewers who want to know, "What is this about? What does it mean?" This is because they distrust themselves, finding it difficult to buy or simply enjoy a work on the wall of the gallery based on nothing more than the fact that it looks cool and they like it. The gallery or critics will begin to spin intellectual verbiage trying to snare the ineffable and the next thing you know everyone "understands" that the images are "about the dialectic of transformative sex roles in modern society" or whatever. Given the imprimatur of seriousness conferred of such intellectual verbiage, the artist's work becomes salable ... and smart artists don't go around debunking the myth making until it has done its work. And the gallery sales force and verbal artistes spinning these word webs aren't going to fess up either because that would mean THEY don't get paid.

Posted by: Chris White on April 14, 2008 7:14 PM



I most certainly was not insulting artists. In fact, I was out last night playing with a group of musicians. I did a gig on Saturday night with another group.

My remarks actually concerned whether I am interested in the political opinions of artists. I most certainly am not.

I've phrased this a number of ways. Here's another interpretation. Artists, except for the remarkable few who prosper, want somebody to bail them out for the terrible mistake in judgment they made in becoming artists and musicians. Chris, the Karl Berger group you mentioned is a prime example. I know all those people. On an intellectual level they don't have a clue about Marxism, but on an emotional level they feel very strongly that the society has an obligation to support them. Why? Because they feel so devout about playing music.

And, now I'll get you all going. Every one of you defers to black musicians as some sort of emotional or moral authority over white musicians. Why? Lower natural intelligence and lesser educational indoctrination equals stronger emotional connection. White men tend to work in the music business until they are in their late 20s or early 30s and then they get the hell out... because they can. Most of them graduated from high school. This is not the case for black musicians. Black musicians usually don't have any other survival skills.

Chris, you may now start the beating.

In fact, I love musicians. I play in three different bands. Just like visual artists, the area of competence of musicians is emotional expression. I don't expect or want them to make sense in the world of intellectual expression. It's usually a negative in terms of emotional expression if they do make sense intellectually.

I'm different than most musicians, in negative and positive ways. Since I got an education and learned a trade, I don't have to be desperate in the music business. This is the positive. The negative is that I don't have the survivalist terror that pushes most musicians. I have a better life, but my comfort level limits my production and development as a musician.

The world of the arts is a pile of crap. It's a business that refuses to invest in its own employees. It's cowboy capitalism at its worst. And I'll repeat, the liberal political views of artists can really be defined down to this: They want a benevolent state to rescue them from the terrible decision they made in becoming artists.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 15, 2008 7:42 AM



Chris -- No one would ever accuse you of being a tough love type, that's for sure. I think you may overdo the tenderness and protectiveness, though -- most of the artists I know are *eager* for more people to understand that they aren't intellectuals, they're creatures of talent, instinct, and craft. Also, try typing "bete comme un peintre" (stupid like a painter) into Google and learn a bit about traditional French attitudes towards their painters. It wasn't a put-down; the French revere their artists. They're just more blunt and cold-hearted than we are about the nature of 'em. I fully agree with ST on this -- artists are good at emotional/sensual expression. Some of them also have decent brains of the academic-logical-organized sort, but most of them don't. And even the ones who have good academic-type brains have to switch them off in order to enter into "creativity" mode. Smarts (of an academic, IQ-y sort) are simply irrelevant to art-style creativity, assuming a basic level of human competence, I guess. And while I've seen some intellectuals who have willed a little creativity out of themselves by applying the brains factor, it usually doesn't work out very well, and they usually don't keep at it for long. Which makes sense: If working from the intellect is what's easiest for you, why would you bother going to all the circuitous trouble of trying to express yourself "creatively" instead?

ST -- That's a shrewd hunch, your theory about why so many artists tend Marxist! And I know what you mean about the "survivalist terror" that drives some artists. I know bunches of actors for instance. And the ones who are most likely to have actual careers in the biz aren't the ones who are prettiest of the most talented, they're the ones who really have nothing else they're capable of doing. It's a crappy, nerve-wracking life, and why would anyone who has reasonable options and alternatives put up with it?


If I may ... I think one thing that's getting a weeeeeeeeee bit overlooked in this thread is that the intellectuals who dream up and market absurd theories about the arts aren't just a daffy, harmless group of eccentrics, fun to check in with from time to time. I wouldn't be irked by them myself if that were the case. They're the academics, the editors, the prize-committees, and the administrators who run the show. They set the terms for the fine arts in this country. Which means that it can be worthwhile to throw some mud on them. They're peddling lies, and they're misleading people. In the case of Cindy Sherman ... Imagine someone feeling kinda intrigued about the Cindy thang. Something about the pics seems kinda cool, yet what's really going on there? She reads about it -- and she winds up learning all about the Male Gaze, gender reversals, etc. Eventually this poor sucker may wind up going, "Oh, that's what these pics are really about! That's why they're cool!" And she'll be wrong; she'll be intellectualizing instead of examining her own experience. She'd probably have a much more fun and direct experience of the work if she started with something like, "Hey, this Cindy chick really liked dressing up and playing around in front of the camera. Probably took real balls to do that and put it up in an art gallery! Gee, some of these are kind of moody, and others are kind of silly. But I like dressing up in front of mirrors too. Is that a female art form? Is that something we 'allow' in art? And why am I even asking that question?" Etc etc. No need to intellectualize, much more openness to adventure and fun and emotions, no need for the lies.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 15, 2008 10:14 AM



"I wouldn't be surprised if Cindy Sherman's intention in making the Untitled Film Stills was to get noticed and establish a career, for instance."

You've missed the point. You've mixed up her motivation for creating art with what emotions was she trying to evoke in her art.

Posted by: Thursday on April 15, 2008 10:23 AM



Interesting that the Blowhards Gang (including commenters) tends to be intellectual/verbal types who also practice arts on the side. This is unlike "pure" intellectoids who try to "define" what's goin' on with Cindy, et. al. Perhaps that's why many folks find this blog interesting.

Examples for non-regular readers: Michael dabbles in video, stage stuff and a special fiction genre. Friedrich has painted and sculpted. I majored in applied art in college and do my dabbling (and dabbing) in oil paints.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 15, 2008 10:56 AM



And, Chris, here's what makes you so angry at me.

In artistic communities, being a Marxist or near-Marxist becomes an expression of sympathy and concern. So, when musicians grumble about politics and bitch about how terrible the Republicans are, I know that what they really mean is: "I'm not making it. Don't you feel sympathy for me?"

Yes, I do. But that doesn't mean that I think that welfare and Marxism are the answers to their problems.

The anger within the leftist/Marxist community against American democracy and capitalism can really be explained in this manner. Blaming people for their own decisions is so damned mean. Explaining away their failures as the result of some plot against them is comradeship and sympathy.

One again, that group around Karl Berger is Exhibit A. They feel so pious about playing music. They've sacrificed everything, virtually martyred themselves for the cause of playing music. So, they feel deeply that they are owed a living. Society owes them because their feelings are so beautiful and their devotion is so complete.

And, America is fat and happy. Why can't the dumb rubes sacrifice a little so that they can spend their lives devoting themselves to music?

While I can understand these feelings, I don't buy into it as a political agenda.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 15, 2008 11:34 AM



Oh, and here's a little tidbit I forgot to add to my previous comment.

If you talk with musicians like the ones who surround Karl Berger, you'll discover that they believe that being a musician is "innate" in just the way that being gay is "innate."

They didn't make a decision to try to make a living as a musician. They were called to it, born with it in fact. Only the coldest of bastards could suggest that they are actually responsible for their actions in their choice of livelihood.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 15, 2008 11:38 AM



There's a strange contradiction here (that I think someone in an earlier comment may have talked about) -- if it's true that actual, producing artists are more in touch with the emotional side of things, and less intellectual: how DOES a society go about teaching the whys and wherefores of the Arts?

As always, in this line of thinking I tend to draw opposite conclusions from Shouting Thomas; but, and this is unusual, in this case my experience/understanding lines up with some of his data points. It rings true to me that many musicians who work the musician thing day-to-day are really doing it in part because they're far-and-above better at that than at doing anything more traditional as a means to make a living. On the flip side, many others who only moonlight as musicians do so because they've got talents in other areas where there are easier ways to flourish.

My trouble here is that these generalities don't lead to easy conclusions, and there's a huge spectrum of examples between those extremes. ST's pronouncement that "they want a benevolent state to rescue them from the terrible decision they made in becoming artists," is a fairly worthless generalization. I'm sure for some artists that's true. But painting every artist with that same brush is silly, and using it to conclude that artists should shut-the-hell-up about important political questions is just a convenient out. If a ranting artist is saying something you don't agree with, fine. But trying to cut the message off at the knees by saying it's coming from a stupid artist is a coward's escape and doesn't really help the argument.

In fact you wear your I'm-a-musician thing on your sleeve enough that it'd be easy enough to go ahead and lump you right into that group and therefore conclude that anything you say is just the demented rambling of just another stupid musician.

And, also: "Every one of you defers to black musicians as some sort of emotional or moral authority over white musicians. Why?"

Another over-generalization. Every one of us very much does NOT defer anything to black musicians; some of us figure out our emotions and morals without "deferring" to any such thing, and some of us judge our music based on our own take on it, without any concern for the color of the musician making it.

Posted by: i, squub on April 15, 2008 11:45 AM



"So, when musicians grumble about politics and bitch about how terrible the Republicans are, I know that what they really mean is: "I'm not making it. Don't you feel sympathy for me?""

No. You THINK you know what they mean because that's what you think EVERY SINGLE PERSON MEANS when they bitch about Republicans. You conveniently ignore anything and everything, up to and including the words that they're actually using, in order to lump everyone you don't agree with into one big stupid pile or morons and then say, "hey, you're just one of the morons, I don't have to actually speak to the substance of your arguments."

Posted by: i, squub on April 15, 2008 12:14 PM



Thursday -- I "missed the point" deliberately. As for what emotions Sherman intended to elicit ... Well, how could we know without asking her? In any case, I don't really care that much, do you? I know how her work hits me; I'm interested in how it hits other people (preferably non-intellectuals ...) That's enough for me. But I think even here we can be in danger of assigning too much in the way of calculation and specificity to artists. Exceptions as ever allowed for, but my experience with artists has been that -- in the case of a comedy for instance -- they're hoping you'll buy a ticket and laugh. A musican may hope you'll buy a ticket and dance. In the case of visuals-on-a-wall artists, are generally hoping you'll be willing to leave the TV behind for a bit, look at what they've made, and pause for a few seconds to let some feelings and reflections flit around inside you before moving on. Really, honest to god: Those kinds of "intentions" and "motivations" account for around 90% of what I see artists up to. (Beyond the basics, of course, there are all kinds of crazy and sometimes complicated things that they're up to. But that's maybe for students to worry about. Me, I'm no longer a student. And I think getting the basics in focus is much more important than losing ourselves in the fancy stuff.) Like I say, when it comes down to what the artists are up to, it's often a heck of a lot more simple and direct than what the experts make of it.

Donald -- I like your idea of "pure Intellectoids"! Time to trademark that one.

I, Squub -- How to teach much about the arts without the whole ritual becoming silly, overintellectualized, and completely irrelevant to the process of making and enjoying art is an awfully good question. I vote for a lot of practical and hands-on stuff myself, but that probably isn't much of a contribution. As for ST, I think you're missing the point. ST does emotional expression himself. He's a bright guy too, but as a performer he's primarily an expressive one. He doesn't make arguments, he offers rants, stories, observations, and experiences. His comments aren't level-headed essays, they're bits of performance art: Eric Bogosian, Sam Kinison, etc. Make of 'em what you will. But criticizing his comments here as excessive or hyperbolic is being a bit opaque. Of course he's excessive, hyperbolic, etc -- he's an artist, that's what they're like, that's what they do. By being frank about the fact that most artists aren't terribly intellectual (my experience certainly confirms this: most of the artists I know wouldn't recognize an intellectual-style idea if it hit them on the head), he isn't putting them down, he's saying, "This is what they/we are, This is what they/we do." If you don't enjoy his rants and stories, that's certainly fair enough. But criticizing his comments as failing to measure up to reasoned speech is like telling an opera singer she really shouldn't make quite such a fuss, you know? I mean, maybe you just don't enjoy opera. That's OK, of course. But why try to make the case that the opera singer should be a competent debater? That isn't who she is and that's not what she does. Artists are generally funny combos of egomania, generosity, inspiration, dreaminess, empty babble, enthusiasm, nonsense, greed, ambition, cluelessness, canniness, lust, more empty babble, occasional staggering bits of wisdom and insight, childishness, and (oh, yeah) talent. But one thing they seldom are is reasonable.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 15, 2008 12:54 PM



i, squub,
you make some good points, but ST's experience with musicians is on the money in my experience, and I know a bunch. In fact I thought the same way when I was a young musician. I most definitely thought the world owed me a living, though I would never have stated it out loud.

Thankfully the web came along so I could make a real living.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on April 15, 2008 12:56 PM



Evoking emotion, often quite specific emotion, is what artists do. And artists usually have at least some idea what specific emotions they want to evoke. They are skilled manipulators. I think we can agree that emotions are often not articulable, by either the artist or the critic. But just because an artist cannot _articulate_ what he wants to evoke does not mean he doesn't want to evoke something fairly specific. Artist often make art for no other reasn than that this this is a cool feeling and I want other people to feel it too. The problem comes a critic thinks that he _can_ articulate what is more often than not the mostly inarticulable meaning of a work of art, and is thus superior to the actual art.

Posted by: Thursday on April 15, 2008 1:37 PM



Michael:

So the proper response to ST's rants is to rant back? I'm really not sure I get your point, but I think that's because I don't really agree with the premise. Artists are allowed (and very often able) to have a reasoned debate. He's offering arguments, and I'm just expressing why I think his arguments don't quite work. If his arguments aren't REALLY meant as arguments but are instead just meant as performance pieces: well, then, okay. I argue with the TV, too, and it never responds either. So I'm a little nuts, and if that's what you're saying I'll take your point.

Beyond that, and also in response to Todd Fletcher's "ST's experience with musicians is on the money in my experience, and I know a bunch," -- I know a bunch, too. As always, personal experience will only take you so far. Among my small group of closest friends, every single one is a musician, and none of them fit any of the molds being cut here. That's far from saying I don't know musicians who DO fit that mold: I've certainly dealt with a few. And of course the reason I know/deal with so many is that I'm one too.

On the other point: the fact that nearly all intellectual disassembling of art seems way off the mark is something I've always marveled at. Is it simply that in trying to teach (I'm talking as much here about high school English teachers as university professors,) this stuff to a general audience the teachers need to find something to test on? Education has as a major component, most of the time, the assertion that students have to be able show that they've learned something. Not much to learn in sticking to the line that the artist was probably just trying to put something together that'd be interesting to somebody else.

Posted by: i, squub on April 15, 2008 1:43 PM



Thursday --

Evoking emotion, often quite specific emotion, is what artists do.

There's a gap between "people will tend to have emotional reactions to art" (obviously true) to "artists set out to create those reactions" (much more uncertain). Some artists are very calculating and effects-obsessed. Others just put shit out there and hope to get applauded.

They are skilled manipulators.

Some are, but not all, and not by a long shot!

Artists often make art for no other reason than that this this is a cool feeling and I want other people to feel it too.

Agreed, though once again I think your emphasis on "I want other people to feel it too" is overdone. In many cases they're largely hoping to be paid, or win applause, or something. I think we may disagree over how much control artists have (and often even want to have) over their effects. In my experience, artists put a lot of shit out there, try to learn from what "works" (what people actually applaud and pay for), build on that, then fall on their faces and start all over again. What it is people make of them and their work ... Well, often they don't even want to know.

The problem comes when a critic thinks that he _can_ articulate what is more often than not the mostly inarticulable meaning of a work of art, and is thus superior to the actual art.

Agreed completely.


I, Squub -- Well, I should get out of the way, but I think it's fair to say that ST isn't offering arguments. That's for other people to do. He's offering stories, rants, insights, personal observations, etc. Treating that gumbo of highly-charged stuff as an attempt at argument-making is what strikes me as a little off. But you hang with musicians. If you were drinking beers with one of your buds and he went off on some funny, mean-spirited jag about something or other, I doubt you'd subject his monologue to critical analysis. Most likely you'd find it an amusing (and maybe provocative and enlightening) performance that has some valid (in an emotional-truth sense) moments as well as some super-vivid evocations and such. But I've said enough ...

Not much to learn in sticking to the line that the artist was probably just trying to put something together that'd be interesting to somebody else.

I think that's a really important point.


Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 15, 2008 2:33 PM



"In my experience, artists put a lot of shit out there, try to learn from what "works" (what people actually applaud and pay for), build on that, then fall on their faces and start all over again."

I never said artists didn't have to _learn_ how to manipulate and communicate emotions, nor that they don't continue to experiment with different was to do this. None of this detracts from the fact that communication and manipulation of emotion is the whole point of art, and the more powerful an artist is, the more skilled he will at it.

Posted by: Thursday on April 15, 2008 3:18 PM



Michael,

I might be offended. I'll have to think about it.

OK. I thought that the issue was: Do I want to hear what artists have to say about politics? My answer is: "Hell no." Why? Because it isn't entertaining or fun or moving. And, because artists are pretty much dunces when it comes to that part of life anyway.

On the other hand: What do I expect from politics? Absolutely nothing. Just a couple of days ago I was chastised for failing to experience comradeship and solidarity with my fellow man. So be it. This doesn't mean that I don't believe in friendship and love. I've got plenty of that.

Or on the third hand: Who do I want to listen to about politics? Such critters are few and far between because I don't think of politics as the solution to much of anything. If I must read about politics I prefer the likes of Steve Sailer or Fred Reed. Although they appear to be very different, they are both of the "Damn them all" persuasion."

My ideals of what an artist should be are people like Henry Miller, Hank Williams and Muddy Waters. In fact, I remain to this day stricken to the core by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I love a good story teller. A good story teller is bound by nothing save the urge to move the audience and to inform others about the repetitive nature of the cycle of karma.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 15, 2008 3:41 PM



Thursday -- I wouldn't dispute much of that. I would point out, though, that it describes what the artist is actually concerned with only sometimes. Some artists are cleanly focused on communication and the manipulation of emotion when they create. Others aren't at all. Like I say, many are pretty much fully involved in this sequence of concerns: 1) showing off their talents, 2) hoping you'll be charmed, 3) hoping against hope that the paycheck doesn't bounce. Some of them really couldn't care less about anything other than this. If some connoisseur wants to go on about the note of citrus and walnut and the hint of brocade and alabaster the actor brought to his drag-racing scene, well, that's real nice, but it's almost certainly not something the actor gave any real thought to. Most likely he was caught up in thoughts like, "Is the camera getting a good look at how sexy these cowboy boots look on me?" and "Jesus, this scene feels like a turkey. Is there anything I can do to give it a little life?"

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 15, 2008 3:42 PM



I just wanted to reiterate this because it's come up again in subsequent comments:

"I wouldn't be surprised if Cindy Sherman's intention in making the Untitled Film Stills was to get noticed and establish a career, for instance."

I think that's the prime motivator of 99% of artists. So the question is, how to get noticed? Usually, the answer is to create art that resonates with people somehow, be it to shock them, make them think, etc. I really don't believe there's a contradiction between an artist's intent to get noticed and an appreciator's reaction that goes way above and beyond that intent. In fact, I love that about art.

Regarding ST's rants, OK, they're rants. But I believe that he's offering these rants in order to illustrate and/or support his viewpoints. Just because he's an "artist" doesn't get him off the hook for having to make rational arguments when participating in a comment thread where arguments are being made. Sure, he can say anything he wants, but he's not going to get much respsect from me by making ridiculously broad generalizations based on his own anecdotal experience. All I have to do to counter that is offer up my own. I've been a musician for 20 years, not full time, but almost always gigging. It's few and far between that I've come across other musicians who want anything from the gov't other than to stay the hell away from their musical expression.

Does that mean there aren't musicians like the one ST describes? Of course not. But it DOES mean that he can't go around spewing broad generalizations and excpect them to be taken as anything other than rants. And I truly don't believe that's his intention (uh oh, that word!). Correct me if I'm wrong, ST, but I think he expects his rants to be taken as supporting his viewpoints. And I think it's a bit disingenuous (that other word!) of you, MB, to let him off easy as just an emotional artist expressing himself. I'm an artist, and if I ranted here in the same way ST does, but with a viewpoint you disagreed with, I'm quite certain you'd call me on it.

Of course, that's your prerogative, this is your blog. I'm just sayin'.

Posted by: JV on April 15, 2008 5:04 PM



I don't need to be called on anything, JV, because I'm right and you are wrong.

I tell stories. I'm a damned good storyteller. The stories I tell are true for the places I work and play.

Where did you read in any of my comments that I was concerned with "your respect?" I could give a damn less.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 15, 2008 6:08 PM



"I tell stories. I'm a damned good storyteller."

Tell me the one about how Woodstock sucks, again. I haven't heard that one for about 10 minutes.

I like the exchange of ideas here, but you don't exchange much. I think you're taking the name of this blog too literally. Anyway, I'll believe what you say about the places you work and play, as I've never been to Woodstock. Just going by your rants, I have to believe you've never been outside of Woodstock. There's a whole wide world out there, buddy, with musicians and artists who, like, work for living and raise good kids. You should check it out.

Posted by: JV on April 15, 2008 7:41 PM



That Voice of God thing you do is pretty impressive, JV.

When did you start signing my paycheck?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 15, 2008 8:36 PM



I've been to Woodstock. i have musician and artist friends in the area. They are far from the way Shouting Thomas claims all of the other musicians and artists in the area are ... himself and perhaps a few friends excepted, of course. Shouting Thomas is a cranky old fart who needs a good enema because he is mostly full of shite.

I'll grant that he does, however, give good rant and if rants be stories then he's a good storyteller. I think MB likes ST because an ST rant can always get me and a few others going which makes for a lively comments thread. There are those times when he loses focus and reverts to his inner fifth-grader with issues (e.g. "because I'm right and you're wrong." One wonders why he doesn't add the "NYAH,NYAH, NYAH!") It kind of begs for the "I'm rubber and you're glue." response.

Back to the topic at hand. I always thought that politics is, or at least should be, the province of "we the people". I am equally interested in what computer geeks, ad execs, teachers, factory workers, and burger flippers think. Musicians and artists, too. Sometimes I agree, sometimes not, with their POV. Sometimes the work is compelling art regardless of the politics. Sometimes I like the politics and find the art lacking.

Posted by: Chris White on April 15, 2008 9:53 PM






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