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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

When They See It

This is the image that greets me many days on my way to and from work when I pass by the window of Eli Klein Fine Art at 462 West Broadway in SoHo. For those unfamiliar, West Broadway is the prime artery through the center of SoHo, where many of the area's galleries were located during the neighborhood's renaissance. Most have closed owing to escalating rents, but a few remain.
I am neither a student, connoisseur or critic of art, so I leave assessment of this sculpture to others. However, this does illustrate one of the dilemmas I have wrestled with over the decades I have lived in this city - the apparent contradiction in what constitutes good and bad art. My experience is that most in the art world are very reluctant to say that there is any objective standard for art. Criteria like personal appeal are cited as valid ways of judging art. Yet in practice, most artists and critics are quick to make a qualitative judgement about any art and whether it is good or bad - inherent in that judgement is the implication that this is an educated opinion, implying some standards. To the unschooled in art, one is left with the feeling that there are standards but that they are either difficult to define or perhaps only known to their secret society. A feeling of art snobbery lingers in the air.
I am reminded of what is considered to be one of the most famous phrases in the history of the Supreme Court. In 1964, a United States Supreme Court decision, Jacobellis v. Ohio, involved whether the state of Ohio could, in light of the First Amendment, ban the showing of a French film called The Lovers (Les Amants) which the state had deemed obscene. Vary disparate opinions were given by the justices at the time but the most well known was that of Justice Potter Stewart who said that the Constitution protected all obscenity except "hard-core pornography." He went on to say he could not define it but "I know it when I see it." Perhaps this is the secret for the trained critic or artist - they know good or bad art it when they see it ...

About the Gallery and sculpture: "Eli Klein Fine Art is committed to presenting important exhibitions of new Chinese art." Their website is here.


Nancy said...

I really enjoy your blog. You are a talented photographer.

San Diego

naomid said...

Only one rule is necessary to understanding art. This rule is especially important if you feel you are un-educated or that art is snobby.

Art is not made for everybody to like/appreciate/enjoy.

a follow up is that

You are allowed to dislike art whether you understand it or not.

Jarart said... the eye of the beholder, I guess.

Terry B said...

Good comments by naomid. And I might add that whether or not you would gladly hang something over your sofa doesn't make it art either.

As another point of comparison, think of books or films. They don't always tell pretty stories or guarantee happy, feel-good moments. Sometimes they're challenging or even disturbing. But if they do it in an honest, original way, we often think of them as great films or books.

Regarding much visual art, there are certain, well, if not rules, then areas of concern most artists deal with. Among them are line, shape, form and color. Whether you're looking at a still life of roses, a landscape or an abstract, the artist used these elements in creating the piece. Having a basic understanding of these elements lets the viewer get more from some works of art, much as understanding the basic rules of football helps you appreciate what is going on down there on the field during a game.

Michael Nagle said...

This post also raises the question not of how we decide whether art is "good" or "bad" - but how we define what art is. The sculpture in the photo looks as though it would not be out of place in the window display of a department store.

Some would say that this doesn't disqualify it from being thought of as art, but I wonder where the line should be drawn, if it should be drawn at all.

EgoPimp said...

Very, very bizarre! :)

harvey said...

Bizarre indeed. I have read that this type of art serves to blur the frontier between the living and the non living, in view of future genetic manipulations and implants. Wouldn't be surprised if that were true.