Monday, November 27, 2006

This man needs to retire

I never liked Alan Artner, the art critic of the Chicago Tribune for the past 33 years.

I don't like how he writes, thinks, looks -- and I especially don't like the things that he likes.

Well.. nothing unusual about that .. I've never read any art critic that I did like.

But now -- in his 33rd year -- he has seen fit to reverse the ONLY opinion he's ever had with which I would agree (which he wrote 33 years ago):

(referring to the artist Jim Nutt "Nothing wrong with this except that even at its inception eight years ago it was unspeakably shallow. Perhaps this time around the giggling I heard means that Chicagoans are gently but decisively laughing the stuff off our walls. Harmless as it is, Nutt's part in the ongoing joke has lasted far too long"

Why the change of heart ?

Actually -- he hasn't changed his opinion -- he still agrees with John Canaday that Imagism was "Greasy kid stuff" -- but now he repents the anger that he expressed back in his tempestuous youth.

..the language in which I wrote about my recoil from Imagism was wrong because it was vehement. And that vehemence came from the mistake of reacting as much to the enironment Imagism had caused as to the work itself. Imagism was only a style, here for a moment and, even among those who made up the "movement", soon gone. Art was not brough low by it. Art is more resilient than is thought by would-be protectors and defenders. Art in Chicago would simply move on.

Yes -- art is resilient -- or, or put it better, humanity is resilient -- civilizations come and go -- and still we're here to have another shot at it.

But individual lives -- and the moments of those lives -- come once and are gone forever -- and the institutional ascendency of "Chicago Ugly" is still, 30 years later, affecting the lives of artists, art students, and art lovers in the Chicago area.

A passion for our moments of life - specifically those moments spent in front of accessible paintings -- that should be sine qua non of an art critic worth publishing.

"I was also wrong to think the ascendance of Imagism affected much beyond a distribution of power and money. When young, you seldom consider those things; they're deflected by a naivete that keeps the mind, you think, on bigger things, such as what is best for (or best represents) the art community. But I was wrong about that as well, for in art, as in any business, it's everyone for him-or herself,not ideas of community.

No -- despite 200 years of rule by the bourgeois class -- art is still not just "any business" -- and isn't this declaration of cynicism just another way of saying "I don't want this job any more "?

What did I think would happen if an art greater in appetite, deeper in thought and subtler in feeling had attention instead of Imagism ? The history of Chicago Art might have recognized sooner that the city's greatest aesthetic achievement lay in photography, not painting

And there you have it --- painting is dead -- has everyone heard of the new 10 mega-pixel Nikon ?

Yes, I think Alan Artner has begun to dream of the rocking chair -- on a freshly painted wooden porch, looking westward over Lake Michigan.

But who is going to replace him ? Can anyone replace him ? Does it still make sense, in our fragmented post-modern artworld for a major newspaper to have a single, permanent, professional art critic ? Or would an arts-curious public be better served by an endless succession of different voices -- involved with different genres ?


Blogger Robert said...

In England Chris we would give him a pocket watch, but how would "good news" sell newspapers I ask?

“The page 3 girl” in the English tabloid newspapers is probably the only page that fails to include bad or smutty news, just a smutty picture instead. What does that say about newspapers?

Now we have in "The Evening Standard" London’s newspaper Brian Sewell as the art critic and he writes with bitter sarcasm and venom after visiting the Turner Prize exhibition not so long ago. He recommended that we didn’t go to see it. Here’s a sample:

“ Damien Hirst's darkest hour” An exhibition at the Serpentine, selected from his vast private collection of work by other artists, suggests that the judgement of this now old Young British Artist is utterly conventional, says Brian Sewell.. more |
(In case you read it, the Vicar of Bray was renowned for changing sides to save his skin in the 17th century.)

You would love him! Send him an email copy to the Tribune and invite him to do an exchange visit! The newspapers can pay and the public would have a change for better or worse, everyone wins!

November 27, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

You like my art criticism, don't you? :)

November 27, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

PS read melikian. he is always reliably good. though he is probably not a "critic".

November 27, 2006  
Anonymous marly said...

"in art, as in any business, it's everyone for him- or herself, not ideas of community."

I think we’ve all been battered by the art-as-business stick lately; in my little corner of the arts realm, bookscan numbers and marketing trump and trounce the well-made and beautiful far too often.

But I think that this points to one of the very grand things about the “web.” This infinite library of voices and pictures is not quite the same as the world we walk, but it is a place where artists of all stripes find community—just as you do, right here. I live in a tiny village, far from the places I call home. Yet every day I talk with other people who are making art of all sorts, and often I find warmth and kinship: “community.”

November 28, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

And neither are you (an art critic), Sir Gawain -- in the sense of evaluating something as art based on art knowledge --- rather than for how it makes you feel based on experience.

So, unless I'm misreading Heaventree , your art commentary (like mine) is intended to tell the reader at least as much about yourself as it is about the objects under discussion.

November 28, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

I'm tickled that you're finding a community here, Marly. ( since you're something of a "Visi d'arte" kind of person)

What was it like back in those dark days before the internet ?

I really can't remember -- I've changed so much since then.

November 28, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Yes, thankyou for the reference, Robert, I do think Chicago needs a Brian Sewell for a few years ( and he would have a great baseball announcer )-- but I do wonder what kind of contemporary things he likes ? Anything ?

November 28, 2006  
Anonymous Joy In Life said...

Ah, your rocking chair has given me cause for mirth on this dark day. I know what to do with my critics: send them to Chris Miller and hope that the recipient never has cause to become one of mine.

December 01, 2006  
Anonymous Conrad H. Roth said...

Brian Sewell is probably the closest thing I have to a contemporary hero. He called the execrable Howard Hodgkin "the great panjandrum of British art." But it was Tom Paulin, another heroic curmudgeon, whose memorable opinion of Damien Hirst resounds in my head every single day of the year:

"utterly, utterly, utterly, utterly banal."

That's four utterlys (with a thick Northern Irish accent.)

December 01, 2006  

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