All thirty-two episodes of what is generally considered the best of all of the Popeye adventures is now available online. These comic strips were produced for Hearst’s King Features Syndicate in 1933-1934. Plunder Island from E. C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre can be found here.
Archive for March, 2008
. . . but I know what I like.
The most fundamental question concerning contemporary aesthetics is whether or not there can be any objective measure of quality. Even here one needs to realize that “quality” is going to be a vaguely defined term. Nevertheless, to recognize that the primary question is about objective standards is to realize that we cannot simply use our personal sensibilities — what we are attracted to — as any sort of a guide. The observable fact that people have differing opinions about art is evidence enough that a priori knowledge of aesthetic quality isn’t universal.
Attempts to find an objective measure of “beauty” have now been replaced with value theory; though value theory doesn’t address all the questions raised by aesthetics. If a work of art is within an established tradition we can compare it with other works within that tradition. Also what is and isn’t currently in fashion can be objectively measured. There have been numerous aesthetic theories posed by philosophers, psychologists and scientists with varying degrees of persuasiveness.
Traditional issues of aesthetics are often irrelevant in contemporary art. Today any observation about what is categorized as art can be regarded as aesthetics.
Doug Fishbone is a conceptual artist who is best known for dumping an enormous pile of bananas in Trafalgar square. He repeated the stunt in New York.
“I installed an enormous mountain of ripe bananas – roughly 30,000 of them – on the North Terrace of London’s Trafalgar Square. After sitting on the Terrace all day, like a strange organic sculpture, the bananas were given away to the audience totally free of charge.”
He has also created a video that can be seen on YouTube. It’s described as “a great conceptual art piece,” which I guess you could say about all of the other YouTube videos. Be warned, the ending is pornographic and not appropriate for everyone.
The picture below arrived in my e-mail with no explanation from Otto Didacticus @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
I didn’t want to start this essay with the word “I” but I guess it’s too late now. One of the most successful artists in the United States is the much-berated Thomas Kinkade. “Successful” here meaning fame and fortune. Kinkade’s company, Media Arts Group, has a distribution network of over 4,500 dealers and is publicly traded on the New York stock exchange. Kinkade has now opened one of his many franchises in the Riverchase Galleria. Unlike Norman Rockwell who was also despised by the mainstream Artworld, Thomas Kinkade will never have a retrospective at the Guggenheim. Even Time magazine’s huge spread on the Kinkade phenomena entitled “The Art of Selling Kitsch” didn’t slow the growth of the stock or make the art buying public, usually afraid of being considered rubes, stop purchasing these paintings and prints.
When Postmodernism (Post-Modernism, post Modernism, postmodernism) started to come into vogue in the 1980’s there was a hostile reaction from the Modernist establishment. This reaction has been, for the most part, very successful because many people still believe that conceptual art and all the latest avant-gardeisms are Postmodern. Conceptual art is late Modernism and no “new” kind of conceptual art can be Postmodern except when it’s Neo-Conceptual, if you can wrap your brain around that. Postmodernism is simply the art movement that comes after Modernism. It’s most easily recognized as having aspects of plain old-fashioned painting and sculpture and the idea of the “author” is primary. In Modernism we have the “genius.” Any scribble by Picasso, no matter how insignificant, is considered a masterpiece because of who did it. In Modernism the quality of the artwork itself was secondary to its presentation. Great art was the product of institutions. These institutions declared objects to be art and so it was. The author was all-important. In Postmodernism the work of art must stand on it’s own, the author is irrelevant. It wasn’t Rockwell’s uncool subject matter or uncool ability to paint that made him so vile to the Modernists. Rockwell was an “illustrator,” which back in the 1950’s was bad, very bad. Back then, selling your work meant that people liked it and understood it…bad, very bad. Art was only supposed to be understood by a handful of intellectuals on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Anything that could be appreciated by the masses was crass, worse, it was kitsch.
One artist who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with kitsch is Odd Nerdrum. Odd’s an odd fellow. This Norwegian painter is begrudgingly accepted by the Artworld and has been writing about kitsch in what is a thinly disguised defense against how many Modernists consider his own work. It’s true that Odd’s painting resemble science fiction book covers, but they’re much more sober, and let’s be honest; a lot of those science fiction book covers are pretty neat. Like Norman Rockwell, Odd Nerdrum paints in a style that predates Modernism. Odd can be considered Postmodern but Rockwell is more anti-Modern or rather non-Modern because of the time he was creating. His type of art was actually the only act or object created by man that couldn’t be considered Modern. So what about Thomas Kinkade?
The reason (I hope) Kinkade will never be considered a serious artist isn’t his hokey subject matter or crass commercialism. The Pop artists were unapologetically in it for the bottom line. If Kinkade was just hocking his sappy paintings he might have a chance in being considered just a painfully sentimental Postmodernist. His execution is excellent. But all this “Painter of Light” stuff is beyond goofy. In all the Thomas Kinkade galleries the paintings, or more likely prints, are displayed with spotlights and dimmer switches. The idea is that when you dim the light the whites and yellows are supposed to glow. It’s a gimmick that reeks of the worst aspects of Modernism.
Hardcore Modernists will never be able to stomach Postmodernism in the ilk of guys like Odd Nerdrum. Odd represents hard work and talent, not just some inexplicable “genius.”
I know that just as Postmodernism is beginning to be understood, there will come an art movement that will rise up to replace it. I also know that I’m going to hate it. As radical as the accepting of actual painting and sculpture by the Artworld seems to the Modernists, at least we’re still talking High Art. When Rockwell is shown at major museums, it’s still paintings in museums. It’s still highbrow. So what comes next? If you check out the magazine Juxtapoz you can get an idea. I can handle that the once evil “illustration” can now be considered art, but only serious illustration. The beast that’s going to be rearing its head in the hopes of replacing Postmodernism is going to be Lowbrow. I imagine drawings of muscular monsters and devil girls with no aspirations toward aesthetics or enlightenment. Modernism and Postmodernism, at least, have the same goals in mind, but not this new breed of artists. Kids today. They might even embrace Thomas Kinkade (shudder).
Stephen Smith, 1999