Hating contemporary art

November 13, 2008
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A whirlwind of a day started with my earlier-than-usual weekly Fox 59 segment (if you missed it, you can catch it here later today) and will end with the IBJ Night at the Movies midnight screening of "Quantum of Solace" at Regal Cinemas.

In between, there's Tyler Green's '10 Things I Hate About Contemporary Art" talk at the Central Library. Brought to town by IMOCA, Green is one of the main go-to arts bloggers in the country and I'm looking forward to the talk.

While I don't know anything about his "10 Things I Hate About Contemporary Art" list, I thought I'd try to put together mine. Here goes:

1. I hate the term itself. Contemporary mean current. But work labeled "Contemporary art" thirty years ago differs from "Contemporary art" today. Same problem with "modern."

2. I hate that there is not a clear way to differentiate between art that requires skill to create and art that anyone could create based on the ideas of the artist. I can appreciate both, I just think they are distinct enough that they could use separate terms.

3. I hate, for the most part, artists' statements, which often lessen or cloud the work rather than enhance it.

4. I hate when those who don't appreciate contemporary art say that a monkey, a child, or an elephant swinging a paint brush from his trunk can create work indistinguishable from work that sells for big bucks.

5. I hate that, sometimes, a monkey, a child, or an elephant swinging a paint brush from his trunk can create work indistinguishable from work that sells for big bucks.

6. I hate trying to explain how an artist can still sign his or her name to a work when dozens of other people may be responsible for its actual creation (I'm looking at you, Mr. Chihuly).

7. I hate that perception of quality in contemporary art can be so dependant on price tag and marketing.

8. I hate Aliza Shvarts--although I'll defend your right to like her.

9. I hate Thomas Kincaide--although I'll defend your right to like him.

10. I hate when politicians use the most controversial of contemporary art as a weopon.

Care to add anything to the list?
  • Well, I had not heard of Tyler Greene or his blog, but I love the idea of there being a go-to arts blogger for the country, so thanks for introducing me to him. I wish I could attend the lecture tonight.

    I also had not heard of Aliza Schvarts, but all I can say about what I now know of her work is YUCK. Just....yuck. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

    I, too, will defend others' right to like her work, but still...YUCK.

    Thomas Kinkaid...well, mostly I have to laugh at how annoyed he makes some people. I haven't had TV for a while, but I used to laugh when I would see him on QVC shopping network, too. He's sort of like the Susan Polis Schutz of painters: sometimes I do enjoy looking at their stuff in a store - I mean, c'mon, her poems do echo the way I feel sometimes and his paintings (or kitchen magnets or whatever) are pretty and have a bright, comforting light in every window - but I rarely feel the need to buy any of it in order to be able to look at it again whenever I want.

    Speaking of buying art, my personal art collection includes only one piece so far that was not made by a friend. I guess it could be called contemporary. It is a black-and-white photgraph of a nude male torso, a self-portrait by a local artist named Outcalt, whom I have never met. I bought it at a student exhibition at the Indianapolis Art Center a few years ago because the juxtaposition of masculine strength and vulnerability in it made me weep when I first saw it, and I just had to have it, no matter how many weeks I would have to live on ramen noodles to pay for it.

    Anyway, I don't think I really have any hates around contemporary art, but I hope you will write more about the lecture tonight, Lou.

    Hope Baugh
  • I'm bummed to miss Mr. Green's talk this evening. He has said a few times on his blog how impressed he is with the IMA's web presence, with their blog, youtube and other social media sites. I want to see him for many reasons, but I'll admit that's one of them---to see the biggest art critic/blogger in the country who said the IMA is the art museum with the best web/new media presence!

    And I'd just like to say that Thomas Kincaide paintings make me nauseous.
  • I like contemporary art. What I hate are Ten Things I Hate About... lists.

  • Oh, my. I actually do like *some* contemporary/modern art but Ms. Shvarts' little experiement defies logic, taste and sanity. Ugh. Ugh. That's about all I can say. I do agree with your numbers 4 & 5. An art minor in school, I applied to a graduate school and was turned down b/c my realism approach was deemed So photorealistic as to be lacking in emotion or depth. Have never forgotten that. The most celebrated senior project of that school the same year was an exhibition of claw foot bathtubs filled with colored waters...As you say, a child or elephant, etc.
  • In all seriousness, my wife and I have assembled a nice little collection of contemporary art that we like, primarily from Indiana artists. What has always appealed to us, in addition to the actual piece, is getting to know the artists and talking with them about the piece that we bought. We have yet to meet an artist who didn't truly enjoy the fact that we liked their work well enough to take it home with us. It's always fun to learn what inspired them to create the piece, and to share with them why it appeals to us.

    I agree that the quality of art should not be based on its price tag. One of my favorite pieces is a ceramic mask that I obtained at the VSA Arts gallery in the Harrison Center for the Arts. It was created by one of VSA Arts' artists, and its hanging in my office. It's a funny little face and it makes me smile every time I look at it. Another favorite piece is a glass fried egg that was created by one of the young artists at the Indianapolis Art Center. It sits on my wife's desk and is an instant conversation starter. Two single-digit purchases that I wouldn't give up for the world!

    I don't know the definition of contemporary art, I just know that, for me, art is more than just the physical work that finds its way into my home or office. I can't look at any piece of art we have without recalling some memory of the artist, and that makes them priceless regardless of the price.
  • Man, this conversation is prompting all KINDS of thoughts, feelings, and memories in me. I'd write about it all on my own blog, but I am trying to be disciplined about keeping my blog focused on live theatre and storytelling in the Indianapolis area. Lou's blog is where I write about everything else! Lucky Lou! (laughing)

    Here's a new list (with apologies to Jeff, above) in random order: What I Want to Explore in Writing About Art:

    1. My aunt, Phyllis MacLaren, is a weaver and sculptural artist in St. Louis, Missouri. She creates pieces that are intriguing in and of themselves, but when she talks about her process and inspirations and intentions, they become even richer. I don't think art should need to be explained...but like Jeff and his wife (above) I love hearing artists I admire talk about their work.

    2. Because of #1, sometimes I wish it were still possible to know everyone responsible for the objects in my life that give me satisfaction and pleasure: who made the dress I'm wearing, or the shoes, or the black tights, or the pearl earrings? I know who cut my hair, but who made the scissors she used?

    3. Other days, though, I like the mystery of not knowing, of just taking pleasure in the fact that someone named Outcalt took a photo that I loved enough to purchase and hang in my bedroom.

    4. Again, the theme of appreciating (or cheerleading or whatever you want to call it.) Does the fact that Tyler Greene takes the time to write favorably about the IMA's website make the IMA's web designers want to take even more creative risks, improve the quality of their work even more?

    5. And the theme of SEEING and recording. Does the fact that Tyler Greene takes the time to write about the IMA's website make it more real, somehow? Reviewers not only judge, they record. They say to artists, I see you. If there are no reviewers, even casual ones, does art cease to exist? For that matter, aren't artists themselves trying to see and record something that matters? Children and teens definitely yearn to be seen in a real, specific way, to know that they matter. I suspect that everyone does.

    6. On the other hand, on some level the making of the art is all that matters. It doesn't matter if the world approves or even notices; an artist just needs to find people/mentors/community/coaches that make him or her want to keep working. TJ, so that one school didn't appreciate your gift. So what. Apply to another one. And another. Or forget about school for a while and just keep making your art. The art itself will teach you, and eventually you will find the people for whom you were called to make it.

    7. Chantal, I get why Kinkaid's work makes you nauseous...but I have to also wonder if a strong reaction of any kind is an indicator of artistic worth. Non-art is just ho-hum, right? The disrespect in Schvarts' work as described in the article Lou linked to makes me angry...so does that mean it really is art, just art I don't like?

    8. What about regrets related to art? I was drawn to a small colored pencil drawing called Kiva at the Indian Market at the Eiteljorg several years ago. Man, oh, man, how I wish I had purchased it.

    9. Regrets, part two: A sculptor once offered to pay me to pose nude for him. I was flattered, I needed the money, and I loved the adventure of it. When I got to his studio, he offered to give me a linoleum print that he had made instead of cash. Man, oh, man, how I wish I had said yes. If I had, I would now have both the story AND something wonderful to hang in my home. At the time, though, I thought I needed the money more.

    10. On the other hand, that particular piece of art didn't sing to me, so maybe if I had accepted it I would have felt saddled with something that I didn't really love but that I felt duty-bound to keep because of the story connected to it. Sometimes, having just the story is best. Sometimes, art feels like clutter, even though it's art.

    Hope Baugh
  • Hope,

    In regards to what you write for number 4: I'd think that anyone who is noticed (and noticed favorably) would have the courage to take more risks, and continue improving. Not just the IMA, but any museum (or orchestra, or theater, for that matter). I think about myself as a critic (I swear I'm not trying to bring attention to me, just using myself as an example): if I compliment a music series in town as being progressive, forward thinking, etc etc, I in many ways hope they continue down that path. It's only natural, ya know? All your other questions though, are to me at least, philosophical, and more difficult to answer. Is Kincaide's art worth something? To someone, for sure. Just not me. :-)

    So did anyone go to the talk??? What was it like?
  • 1. Name of “Contemporary Art” is just the definition. It has mean that has been and continues to be created during our lifetimes. Or contemporary to us. Art in 1970's until this time is Contemporary Art categories. Name of “Modern Art” is the definition too. Modern Art is art from the Impressionism. That time around 1880 until very last 1970's.
    2. A Technical artist and creative thinker artist are different. However, they are both artist too.
    3. Did not know, which artist like that.
    4-5. Lets or wanna see your own work if your work can be distinguishable from a monkey, a child and an elephant against the artists in the world.
    6. Artist's work is same like house. Hardly to seeking materials for building his house, even drain his time, power, and money. He also must have a knowledge and technical around building it with his own hand. If you don't want sign it with your name, give it to me, I will sign it with my name and I will get rich because I have property. Even if people buy it, I will get rich with money. However, it is based on demand. “People did not know that he is a creator of his work”
    7. If it is speaking about quality of art, it will be much dependent on technical result. Not dependent on price tag or marketing. However, many people which learn art were developing their technical too. (Money Eyes).
    8. Using blood and death of baby is sadly. This might not be made an art.
    9. You maybe not like Thomas Kincaide's work, but I see these categories on other sites as a big demand. WOW.
    10. Using the most controversial of contemporary art as a weapon is because you live in the contemporary era. As politicians live in the contemporary era too. This fashion era is casual fashion, many people is still wearing casual fashion. If you did not like casual fashion, Do you want to wear rococo fashion in the18th century and be different. Walking in street, school, shopping center and wherever you go. This fashion was trendy in the 18th century.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.