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« Bloggers I Like to Read | Main | Parental Frankness »

August 06, 2008

Read and Discuss

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

In today's Leisure & Arts section of the Wall Street Journal, David Littlejohn registers his unhappiness with glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and the fact that the de Young Museum of San Francisco dared to install a major show of his work. I'm not sure how long the Journal keeps links live, so if you're interested in reading the entire article, click here soon.

I happen to be something of a Littlejohn-skeptic. One reason is that he likes Rem Koolhaas' new Seattle Public Library main branch building and I hate the thing. (Yes, sensitive readers, I know that "Hate is Not a Family Value" but, alas, I sometimes allow my human weaknesses to come to the fore.)

I also must report the fact that Chihuly and I overlapped briefly at the University of Washington's School of Art. But we didn't know of one another.

That said, my assessment of Chihuly's work is a non-assessment -- I neither like it nor dislike it. Perhaps that's because, aside from rare instances, I'm indifferent to sculpture in a positive sense. But I can easily be negative about the silly stuff that passes as sculpture these days. Chihuly's works normally don't strike me as being silly, so I simply don't really react to them. ("Oh. That's probably a Chihuly, huh? Okay.")

But the subject of this posting is not Dale Chihuly.

It has to do with this paragraph from Littlejohn:

The word most commonly used by Chihuly-fanciers to describe the works is "beautiful," a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists. Although some Chihuly objects appear snakelike or surreal, there is never anything troubling or challenging about them. It all looks strangely safe and escapist, even Disney-like, for art of our time. The writhing shapes and bright kaleidoscope of colors signify nothing but the undeniable skill of their crafters and the strange tastes of Mr. Chihuly.

More specifically, I'm focusing on this sentence segment: "...'beautiful,' a concept of little value in defining serious art after the Impressionists."

So he's saying that after 1885 or thereabouts, "serious" art has little or nothing to do with beauty and beauty has little or nothing to do with "serious" art?

Discuss, if this interests you.



posted by Donald at August 6, 2008


I guess that explains why truth dropped out of the equation as well.

Posted by: Bill on August 6, 2008 5:21 PM

Maybe it's "concepts" that are of little value in defining art.

In any case, why define it at all? Isn't experiencing art the point?

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on August 6, 2008 5:48 PM

It interests me more than I can say. It is a contuing debate that I have with all takers. (Not the kind with name-calling, though)

The scourge of post-modernism is encapsulated in that one sentence you quote.

It's as if only the absense of beauty and technique can allow a piece of art to be taken seriously.

I thought we were post-post-modern, but evidently Mr. Littlejohn is stuck. His opinion almost sounds like satire, doesn't it?

Posted by: Sister Wolf on August 6, 2008 6:28 PM

I work at the Fresno Bee, and one of our writers, Donald Munro, wasn't too impressed with Chihuly, either. But I thought he gave pretty lucid reasons. He compared the de Young exhibit with a Frido Kahlo show:

Posted by: Kent on August 7, 2008 1:09 AM

I'll have beauty. They can keep all the art they want.

Posted by: ERM on August 7, 2008 9:24 AM

Y'all have me thinking about analogies and comparisons ...

The highbrow visual arts world has risen above mere beauty to focus on other, presumably "higher," things.

The literary world has risen above mere story to focus on other, presumbly "higher," things.

The official architecture world has risen above traditional notions of comfort and fitting-in to focus on other, presumably "higher," things.

Gotta wonder what these "higher" things are that they consider so damn important, no? As well as why and when did highbrow artsies suddenly start to think of themselves as being above delivering traditional satisfactions.

And another thing ... It's a bad situation, this split, for another reason. On the one hand, the highbrow world gets overwhelmed by over-intellectual, irrelevant intellectualism. On the other, the mainstream world (where traditional-style values now fall) could use a little more of both recognition and discernment than they currently get. That mall with trad gewgaws hung on it? Why don't the critics and intellectuals pay attention? (Answer: they're too busy dreaming up reasons to praise Rem Koolhaas.)

The two groups have sectored themselves away from each other 'way too much. IMHO, of course.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 7, 2008 9:32 AM

In your opinion, what's the best movie ever created?

Posted by: talapoku on August 7, 2008 9:56 AM

What the critics forget when they complain that Chihuly doesn't deserve a show at a major art museum is this: the De Young isn't an art museum. They didn't put the Chihuly show at the SF MOMA. The De Young is a folk-art and craft museum. If a show of Tiffany lamps, Shaker furniture, or Uzbek carpets comes to town, it's at the De Young. When critics complain that Chihuly's glassworks aren't "art," they simply miss the point. They have such a bias against beauty in contemporary art that they can't abide beauty in any object.

Posted by: thecreepingkid on August 19, 2008 5:12 PM

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