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Re: [BKARTS] Shit (was: Book Art Criticism)
Whee! What a delight! I laughed all the way through. Thanks, Richard!
On Jan 23, 2006, at 6:47 AM, Richard Minsky wrote:
> Does art criticism have some criteria we hold the work against...
> I know a great deal about calligraphy and illumination. ...
> I am competent to make a judgment in this area. ...
> There is a generally agreed upon perception of what constitutes
> Impressionists, so beloved today, were reviled when the movement
> ... Mozart....
WARNING: A RANT IS COMING.
Mozart was buried in a pauper's grave at the age of 35, leaving his
family with no money and no source of income.
Van Gogh's brother bought a painting.
Questions about art and beauty have been asked for thousands of
years in Western culture. No need to waste bits trying to reinvent
Before continuing with this message, I suggest that readers review
at least the following three texts, so we have a foundation for the
Leo Tolstoy: What is Art?
Wassily Kandinsky: Concerning the Spiritual in Art
available as free ebook download from Project Gutenberg:
Arthur Koestler: The Act of Creation
WATCH OUT! THE RANT IS GOING TO BEGIN SOON:
BUT FIRST (and you can skip this section is you're over 50):
So you know where I'm coming from on this subject:
In 1970 I studied the Philosophy of Art with Horace M. Kallen at
the Graduate Faculty of The New School for Social Research.
In 2001 I sat on the Roundtable panel "Art Criticism: Whose
Truth?" with B.H. Friedman and Michael Kimmelman, moderated by Rose
Slivka. If you don't know who they are, Google them.
For almost 30 years I have been teaching and practicing a
methodology of critical analysis that can be applied by artists,
critics and curators. If you want me to give a lecture and/or
workshop on this at your institution, please contact me off list.
Some people on this list weren't born yet when I went through what
James Pepper is dealing with here. For those who don't know, I was
told that my work was crude, that I didn't have the craft skills,
that it wasn't bookbinding, that THEY knew better because they had
studied bookbinding with so and so and had been doing it for 20 or
30 or 40 years. There was only one person in the Guild of
BookWorkers who was supportive of my approach and that was Polly
Lada-Mocarski. If you don't know the Birds of North America story,
it's at http://minsky.com/birdstxt.htm
The Guild had an exhibition at Yale and they pulled my book from
the show. It was a big controversy. But that made people come to
the show to see what it was all about. And that's just one example.
I made a lot of books that showed an apparent disregard for craft
technique, and when they went into group shows, those were the ones
the newspapers printed photos of. That means books like http://
minsky.com/biobomb.htm or http://minsky.com/5.htm
I tried my best to hide the craft technique. The problem with
bookbinding at that time was that craft technique dominated the
field, and the Pink Tea Ladies argued interminably about whether
the French, German or English technique was the best. I changed the
name to Book Art because the focus was on metaphor. Secretly I was
earning my living through my storefront bookbindery, printshop and
art gallery in Forest Hills, Queens, making blank books of handmade
paper, guest books for weddings, printing and binding catalogs for
private art collections, and repairing books. I had a few private
clients for design bookbinding as well, who had things like the
Vollard editions. This work required craft technique, which I had
learned from Daniel Gibson Knowlton, the master bookbinder at Brown
University. I also had been the binder to the Hirshhorn Museum
before it moved to Washington. But I didn't exhibit that stuff in
public. It would have destroyed my image as the "bad boy" of
bookbinding. I didn't want my exhibited work to be examined for how
I made a corner, but for its metaphoric impact. It wasn't until my
25 year retrospective in 1992 that a representative sample of all
this was shown in public, both the high craft and the Book Art
Since there was almost no market for my Book Art in 1974 I moved my
operation from Queens to Manhattan, incorporated as a not-for-
profit, and opened The Center for Book Arts in a storefront at 15
Bleecker Street. That changed everything. The Yale Arts of the Book
Collection now has my archive and I will be a speaker at the Guild
of Bookworkers 100th Anniversary event this year.
NOW HERE'S THE RANT:
If it looks like shit, smells like shit, and tastes like shit,
don't step in it.
I don't see why anyone has a problem about the criticism of James
Pepper's work. They spelled his name right, and that's all that
really matters. It's giving him more than 15 minutes of fame. He's
not likely to stop working because of it.
Yes, there are a lot of incompetent fools out there making shit.
And a piece of well made shit is still shit. If people want to
bullshit about the shit it's piling shit on top of shit.
And that does not refer to the work of James Pepper. I'm not giving
an opinion on Pepper's work because nobody has paid me for one.
I've had to look at thousands of pieces of "Book Art" during the
last 30 years, and there's so much crap that is poorly copied by
the ignorant from originals they never saw that you'd need a
garbage truck for most of it. And it's not necessarily poor in
Craft Technique--it's the lack of originality, metaphoric power,
and content that is so appalling. I'd rather have a poorly made
book with startlingly fresh and meaningful content that will
deteriorate in 6 moths due to the acid in the paper than have a
piece of shit that will last forever.
What I really like to see is insightful art presented with skillful
means. That does not mean that the craft technique should show
itself off. The best craft technique is invisible. You should see
the content of the work and not be distracted by the technique,
whether it is good or bad. If you look specifically for the
technique, you might miss the content. That was the problem the
Pink Tea Ladies had with my work in the 70's.
When viewed, the work should cause the space around it to vibrate.
Like a Degas painting.
There are some brilliant artists in this field, who get it right
more often than not. I've tried to showcase their work over the
years in exhibitions that I curated. Juried exhibitions are another
thing entirely. I love judging shows because I usually get to see
one or two new artists' work that I like, and can buy for my
collection. But you have to select enough of the submitted work to
fill the gallery, so the show doesn't have "curatorial integrity."
That comes when you go out and choose the artists you think best
exemplify whatever the subject of the exhibition is.
Everyone has their hocus-pocus about what art is and all that.
There's a lot been written since Plato about art, beauty and
creativity, and it's still being investigated. I participate as an
invited member of the Guest Panel at the international
interdisciplinary symposium on Art and Cognition: http://
Nowadays neuroscientists are deeply involved in aesthetics, and are
coming up with all sorts of crackpot theories, some of which may be
correct. If you want to know more, read some of the discussion
about it, or Google "mirror neurons" and think about how they may
be involved in your notions about art.
But as far as criticizing people's work on Book_Arts-L goes, I
remain thrilled to see that it's happening, and encourage everyone
to do it, even if you're wrong. Maybe we've heard enough about the
particular work that began this thread, but the discussion has
morphed into broader issues.
Perhaps you have someone else's work you think is crap and want to
trash. Please be specific about what it is that revolts you about
it, and if possible, give an example of a work that achieves what
you find lacking in the selected crap.
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