Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cudlin on Miner

Not to make this blog a Cudlinfest, but Washington City Paper art critic Jeffry Cudlin has a really good look at A.B. Miner's solo show at H & F Fine Arts.

Read it here.

A.B. Miner

By the way, as a devoted fan of the sensuality of the line, which I consider one of the most powerful assets that a good painter can use, or the key between a good drawing and a so-so drawing, I disagree with Jeffry's negative view on the line as used by Miner. It is precisely the palpable sensuality of Miner's ever changing, shifting, dancing line in his paintings and drawings that take them from flat surfaces to a mental place where sex and art live together in moist confidence.

Miner's show at H&F Fine Arts runs through August 4, 2007. Miner has been one of my "buy now" artists for a long time. I get paid to to this sort of recommendation, so take the tip and go spend some Samolians on this really talented painter.

Tolbert on What Makes Good Art?

Bethesda Painting Awards semi-finalist Susan Tolbert opines on the issues raised by Jeffry Cudlin's on-the-air, and off-the-cuff answer to the question "What Makes Good Art?"

Tolbert writes:

When Robert Hughes was asked this question by Charlie Rose last year, he had a very short response: Passion and Organization.

Hopper's work fits this criteria nicely. Art stands the test of time, and Hopper is still standing despite the fact that he wasn't a very good painter.

And I always liked Tom Wolf's (the first one) "Slave to fashion, whore to time."

Susan Tolbert


Considering that when I was a very young sailor in the Navy I almost drowned twice (ahhh... maybe alcohol had some small part in the near-drownings), I'm not the world's greatest aquatic Campello. Not by far... the genes certainly skipped me and all went to this Campello:

Note the windmill farms on the background? Those are the same types that Sen. Kennedy (who once stated "I strongly support renewable energy, including wind energy, as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and protecting the environment") has been fighting to stop being constructed in Nantucket Sound because it would interfere with the view from the Kennedy compound in Cape Cod.

I think they look kinda cool.


When the next exhibition schedule of the National Gallery of Art is announced, there will be a pleasant surprise in it.

Meanwhile, opening on September 16 at the NGA is the first comprehensive survey of Edward Hopper to be seen in the US outside of New York in more than 25 years. Currently at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the exhibition consists of about 60 oil paintings, 25 watercolors, and 14 prints.

What makes good art? Another view...

My good friend, and highly talented artist and Corcoran faculty member Mark Cameron Boyd responds to Jeffry Cudlin's off-the-cuff and elegant definition of what makes good art. Mark writes:

I listened with fairly rapt attention to your WAMU radio broadcast on Kojo’s show last Thursday. As I recall, my good friend Jeffry Cudlin’s improvised “definition” for “what makes good art” was delivered astutely and with the clarity of vision that undoubtedly comes from writing and thinking about art “professionally” as an art critic.

However, his recollected print version (that you published) differs significantly from what he said “off-the-cuff” and "on air." His “recalled” version notably featured Clement Greenberg as a touchstone which would have pricked up my ears if Jeffry had actually mentioned Greenberg’s name “on air.”

Nevertheless, in the printed version Jeffry’s implication is that Greenberg’s theoretical views chiefly concerned “specialization” and I find this is a bit confusing. I respectfully remind my esteemed colleague that it was the “self-criticality” which Clem championed that fully expanded upon his idea that an artist’s medium must “refer to its own method of construction and the characteristics of its component materials.”

Granted, an artist ought to critically consider one’s “method” within a chosen medium but more importantly in the Greenbergian view one must critically assess one’s use and furtherance of a medium; what can be done with one’s method to extend the possibilities of the medium and further the discourse of art?

I also suggest that Jeffry’s framing of the medium question (“Why is this object a drawing, painting, photograph, or sculpture? Why was that choice appropriate, or not appropriate?”) is more a question of “how,” as in “how does the choice of medium help or hinder an artist’s work?”

To open the dialog: does the “how” (chosen medium and method of execution) trump the “what” (idea or concept conveyed) in contemporary art? Duchamp would say, “No,” as would most Postconceptualists toiling in Marcel’s century-long shadow (Martin Creed, Douglas Gordon, Peter Friedl, et al) and I think Jeffry was hinting at this when he writes about un-named young Turks “winnowing out their problem set to a few spare material issues.”

I would like to complicate this line of inquiry even more by mentioning that conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth countered and refuted Greenberg’s analysis by saying that the object is conceptually irrelevant to art. Kosuth also expanded Duchamp’s other idea about the definition of art, when he wrote in 1969: “Being an artist now means to question the nature of art. If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art. . . Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning) the nature of art.”

Kosuth effectively shifted the focus from the specifics of a chosen medium to “question[ing] the nature of art.”

What I attempt here is to propose that we are already in a “post-medium condition” (Rosalind Krauss) and that all bets are off on medium-specificity, which would lessen the impact of “why” one made a drawing as a valuable criteria for “quality,” and that art is about the “definition of art” and the ideas that artists try to convey.

To address Jeff’s second qualification for “good art,” which concerns “material mastery,” requires an introduction of the postmodern confusion of “talent” and “creativity.” To equate one’s “mastery” of a medium as indicator of quality (“good art”) tends to misrepresent “talent” as a consecrated “academic” skill that can be “learned” and that “talent” certifies substance.

This is “old school” and currently out of fashion in our post-medium condition. I should cite Thierry de Duve’s words that, “Creativity is grounded in a utopian belief. . . that repeats itself with clockwork regularity . . . from Rimbaud to Beuys: everyone is an artist.” And “Talent. . . is inseparable from the specific terrain where it is exerted, which in the last resort is always technical. . . Creativity, by contrast, is conceived as an absolute and unformalised potential. . . one has creativity, without qualification; one is creative, period.”

Depending on your allegiances, “talent” can either be learned, taught or does not exist. Again, this is old hat, supplanted in the 1970’s when “critical theory” appeared (linguistics, semiotics, anthropology, psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, poststructuralism, et al) and as Duve notes, “theory entered art schools and succeeded in displacing – sometimes replacing – studio practice while renewing the critical vocabulary and intellectual tools with which to approach the making and appreciating of art.”

To be sure, Jeffry’s “definitions” are muscular, workable points for a discussion of “what makes good art.” But we are on unstable grounds if we mingle academia with Kantian judgment and mastery with metaphysics. I do agree with Jeffry’s last point concerning the artist’s “positioning” of themselves within the history of art.

However, he falls short of fully fleshing his “professional” responsibility in all this when he writes simply: “The task of the critic is to determine whether or not this positioning -- an argument made by the artist, and amplified, tweaked, or otherwise refined by the curator -- is valid.” Again, to ramp up our discussion, we might ask Jeffry to elaborate on the obvious (possibly covert?) power of art critics in “positioning” not only the individual artists but wholesale art “movements” within the grander scheme of “art history.” This obviously implicates the “written” version as more “manifesto” than improvised erudition but clarifications are needed for public consumption and understanding, in any case.


M. Cameron Boyd