Monday, January 17, 2011

Trash Talk, Ctd.

Thanks for all of your insightful comments. One reader aptly noted that Pfannerstill's works address the marketability of art, which brought to mind my recent debate with a contemporary art-cynic. Apprehensive about the marketability of something he could do himself (Pfannerstill's craftsmanship being an exception here), I counter-argued that this perspective wasn't fair--if a skilled artist held the same view, would s/he ever find art that was worth calling "art"? I admit that marketability isn't solely determined by quality of craftsmanship or content; critics play a substantial role in dictating what's hot right now. Art critic Robert Hughes laments over this phenomenon in his 1984 essay in the New York Review of Books:
There is no historical precedent for the price structure of art in the late twentieth century. Never before have the visual arts been the subject - beneficiary or victim, whatever your view of the matter - of such extreme inflation and fetishization. (
This structure doesn't only involve the participation of art critics. There is a sort of feedback cycle that happens in the process of valuing art that involves multiple parties: artist, critic and consumer. When an emerging artist is elevated by a critic, collectors and art venues race to get so-and-so on their walls. A precedent has been set for so-and-so's ingenuity, and the supply and demand snowball amasses itself from there. I find the process somewhat analogous to paparazzi photos: Sure, the guys are relentless slimeballs, but who do you think is buying their material? It's gossip and tabloid magazines, which are bought by consumers like you and me (or at the very least glanced at while standing in the check-out line).

Accepting art market puppetry, a dissident of contemporary art might still ask, "What happened to art that was aesthetically pleasing and accessible?" While I can sympathize with this concern, I find it admirable that contemporary artists are playing with the historic boundaries of art that we've been conditioned to accept. Moreover, contemporary artists are not the first to push the envelope. It is hard to believe that canonical artists like Caravaggio or Van Gogh were once controversial, but indeed their work challenged the aesthetic boundaries of their time. Perhaps a century from now artists like Pfannerstill or internationally-acclaimed ones like Damien Hirst will be considered universally accessible.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful Olivia!

    I might also add that artistic beauty, and particularly accessibility, is a deeply social construction. Our cultural environment, and perhaps most significantly humanities education and museums, influence our own sense of what is beautiful and what is art. Indeed art is constantly changing - for better or worse - but our own set of personal aesthetics inevitably change with it.