Elvis on black velvet

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by frank, Jul 16, 2003.

  1. frank

    frank Subscriber

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    Many people enjoy and appreciate this type of "art". So is it really "inferior" to, say, the Mona Lisa? I guess what I'm asking is, is there "good" art and "bad" art?

    Is there "good" photography and "bad" photography? Is it judged by popular vote, or do the opinions of "the great unwashed masses" matter less than an art critic's views?

    Frank
     
  2. harry

    harry Member

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    I'm more of a Dogs Playing Poker kinda guy myself.

    Seriously, though, those judgements about what kind of art appeals to the unwashed masses are really more a judgement of those unwashed masses than they are of the art, if that makes any sense.

    The idea of art that's accessible to Joe Sixpack makes a lot of people nervous because they have to consider that art isn't just for the elite.
     
  3. Wayne Lorimer

    Wayne Lorimer Member

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    What a huge (and incredibly interesting) topic.

    Thanks for introducing it Frank. Might I ask why you did? Personal angst or just plain interest?

    Firstly, as someone who has lectured in Art Philosophy, been an art critic, and is now a gallery director (as well as passionate photographer), I'd have to say "Yes", there is good and bad art.

    In answer to your question, I would refer you to the Scottish Philosopher David Hume - but I don't want to bore the pants off of you, so I'll summarise as best I can (apologies to Hume).

    His position (and mine too as it so happens), starts by looking at the old "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" argument. Sounds reasonable enough really, and we hear it all the time. You like what you like, and I like what I like, and if that just happens to be Velvet paintings of Elvis, then so be it. You can't tell me I don't like them, and you can't tell me not to like them, cause that would be elitist - and we don't want to be elitist now, do we?

    Art (and photography) in this sense is SUBJECTIVE - it's simply what you like, and that's all there is to it.

    BUT - is this really an appropriate argument? Is it really the case that all things are created equal, and there's simply no inherent value in anything?

    Value judgments can (and should) be made about things all of the time. Not all red wines are created equally, Beethoven created better music than the Spice Girls, and the Mona Lisa is a better painting than a Velvet Elvis.

    In any genre there are "accepted" classics, which can (and are) appreciated by a wide range of people and classes. To say that there is good and bad is NOT to be elitist - it is to acknowledge certain factors inherent in objects that make then 'special' and worthhy of importance.

    There is a reason why Ansel Adams is world famous. He's not just some bloke who took a couple of kinda interesting pics. And there's a reason why Beethoven, Picasso, The Beatles, Tolstoy etc are also famous. That's not to say that everything they did is brilliant - but they certainly got it right more often than not.

    Now of course the next (even bigger) question is "What is the "it" that they got right"? What makes a great work of art?

    If I knew that, my friend, I'd be very very rich.

    Sadly, I'm not.
     
  4. BobF

    BobF Member

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    Can't agree with this as my 7 year old granddaughter and my 90 year old grandmother would consider all red wines equally bad. Opera was the pop music (spice girls?) of its day but is now art. So is the Mona Lisa a better painting than a velvet elvis or very simple cave rock paintings? And Grandma Moses is good why?

    I don't have the answer either but often art is what the elite (self appointed or otherwise) say it is. Often as not the elite make their choice based on what sets the elite apart from the crowd rather than what distinguishes that art from other art.
     
  5. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    The "Beauty is in the eye" bit is one of the most adulterated quotations of all time. It was originally printed as a reply from Toulouse-Lautrec to an Art Critic of the day, who critiqued one of his works... a painting of a man in a chair, paying attention to a woman in a state of being half-dressed. The Critic was appalled, "Pornography!! The man is watching the woman undress!!". Lautrec replied, "The occasion is the couple's twenty-fifth Wedding Anniversary. The man is watching his wife *DRESS* prior to `going out on the Town' to celebrate." - and then, "The EVIL is in the eye of the beholder."

    I personally do NOT like "elitists". However, I do not hold that "the judgement of the relative `rank' of a work is not possible" ONLY as a defense of some sort against elitism.
    I've NEVER been able to discover a "final" answer to the qustion, "What *IS* Art". Not knowing the basiic construction or character of that which we call "Art" I have no idea where to place my "measuring index" ... where the heck do I start from?

    "Value judgements can, and should be made about all things all the time."
    Interesting. Why???
    I HAVE been known NOT to expend energy on the idea of "What's it worth", and just "enjoy". Is there something wrong with that?
     
  6. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Do you think the notes of the musical scale, or the sound used in a language are accidental? They are there because they 'strum' some sort of natural desire for order that is a part of our being and of life itself. Likewise images are composed of 'notes' that we see with our eyes.
     
  7. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Musical notes are rather closely tied to mathematics - so ... I don't know ... there is an arbitrarilaly chosen structure to them.... But just WHY they form what we consider to be "music" is beyond me. I'm reminded of the "dissonance" of Bartok ... that takes some getting used to ... but eventually I would call his work "music". How high it should be "valued"? ... I can't answer that.

    The sounds of language ... the SOUNDS themselves? Yes, they probably orignated as random sounds ... remembered, repeated and combined into "syntax" - and associated with symbolism - they form language.
    Again ... "ranking"?? I don't know ... can anyone claim that English is "better" than Swahili, or Finnish, or Navajo? Certainly, they are different ... but is one of "More Value"" than another?

    Here is something to consider: Edward Weston produced a photograph, "Egg Slicer, 1930". The critics *loved* it .. they waxed on and on about the wonderful virtues and expressive symbolism of that photograph. At the same time, Weston wrote in his Daybooks that he hated that image - detested it --- considered it to be a waste of film.

    So, now what??? Was it a "good" image or not?
     
  8. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  9. Wayne Lorimer

    Wayne Lorimer Member

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    Considering David Hume wrote the "Standard of Taste" in the 1750s, and Toulouse-Lautrec wasn't born until 1864, I'm not quite sure about the 'originality' of the axiom - amd adulterated (or not), it is still an overused statement to justify (or otherwise) people's decisions about works of art.

    Why not???? To not even consider value judgments about most things would therefore make most things value-less, wouldn't it? And unfortunately, with todays post-modern slant on art, where everything is simply open to any interpretation, isn't that what we've got? Valueless art?

    Absolutely not. There is nothing wrong with simply enjoying something. In fact, it should be encouraged.

    BUT - that does not mean that there isn't something that goes deeper within the enjoyment, that is a tangible and objective quality to the experience - whether this is pursued or not.

    As an example, at a very basic level (and bringing it back to photography for a while) - when matting a work for presentation, many photographers will choose non-acidic board because of it's archival qualities, over and above the other, acidic options. While this is a practical decision based on archival needs, it is also a value judgment due to the inherent qualities within the object. Does it make the photographer elitist for choosing one over the other? Especially since the non acidic board is more expensive etc...?

    And what about choice of paper? Resin coated multigrade, or fibre based 'art' paper? Is a photographer elitist if she opts for the fibre based, due to its percievable "quality" difference?

    We make choices all of the time about inherent qualities in things that make them 'better' than other things - and why not???

    That does not mean that everyone should also follow suit, and it also doesn't mean that everyone will agree on the choices made. But getting back to the original question of whether there is "Good" or "Bad" art - I think that to suggest that there isn't a qualification to be made drags everything down to a lowest common denominator - and if we are all happy for that to happen then so be it.

    Sorry - gotta go - my next 'fix' of quality reality T.V. is about to start. 8)
     
  10. BobF

    BobF Member

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  11. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Why not???? To not even consider value judgments about most things would therefore make most things value-less, wouldn't it? And unfortunately, with todays post-modern slant on art, where everything is simply open to any interpretation, isn't that what we've got? Valueless art?
    We make choices all of the time about inherent qualities in things that make them 'better' than other things - and why not??? [/quote]

    Do you actually think that I hold so much power that my refusal to make "value" judgements will "drag" down the value of any piece of art to the point where ALL art is valueless?

    There is a *reason* that I will NOT judge art to a scale of values ... I cannot think of a way that is coherent. I *could* "go with the flow"... what parameters would appear to be best to you? The work follows "accepted rules of composition"? What about "Fine grain, with lots of tonal separation? "... Possibly, "Everything in sharp focus"?

    What "judging criteria" do you suggest? ... that is uniformly applicable, that is completely objective (or should we allow foir the vagaries of human frailty and bias - but wouldn't that destroy coherence?).

    One aternative is even more frightening ... we mindlessly accept the judgement of "those who are well versed in art".., BUT -- those are the only ones that fit the mold of the ELITE.

    Speaking of "coherence" ... I recently entered a "juried competition? ... the judge wrote the reason for selecting the photograph that won ... brace yourself ... "This photograph was easily `best' because it did not lose much detail in enlarging." Somehow, I, and a few of the others, were not exactly heartbroken...

    How on earth can anyone, in good conscience, claim that a photograph by Ansel Adams had a higher value that one by Phillipe Halsman, or Cartier-Bresson, or Imogene Cunningham? We could go to the price records of the market ... but, to me, that is the worst imaginable "judging system", by far.

    So, no ... I will open myself to the photograph - or any other art... and without any concern for dollar value, experience the work. I wil not feel any guilt over the fact that my action will "derag the work down". It won't.
     
  12. Wayne Lorimer

    Wayne Lorimer Member

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    Hi to Ed, and all of the others that have made the last couple of days fascinating and thought-provoking...

    First, just let me say I'm getting kinda confused about who said what, which quote comes from where, and what I've supposedly said in my postings on this topic.

    I don't think that at any stage have I said that only critics know what they are talking about, and we should all simply agree with them without any consideration for how a work makes us personally feel. Maybe I did infere this at some stage - and if I did, then I'm sorry - I didn't mean it (honest!).

    We've all got horror stories about critics we've disgreed with, judges who didn't know an f stop from a full stop, and artists who have languished too long in oblivion just because some idiot panned them in a review.

    I totally agree with you Ed, when you said that...
    How on earth can anyone, in good conscience, claim that a photograph by Ansel Adams had a higher value that one by Phillipe Halsman, or Cartier-Bresson, or Imogene Cunningham? We could go to the price records of the market ... but, to me, that is the worst imaginable "judging system", by far.

    Couldn't agree more. But you've picked some pretty high powered names there to group together. What about claimimg a higher value for a Cartier-Bresson photo against, say... one of mine!?!

    A similar thread in a criticism posting encouraged the writer to critique others work. There were numerous examples of teachers telling students there work was horrible, pointing out numerous mistakes, and the students learning from these comments to become better photographers.

    What scares me with the whole "there's no good ar bad" art thing, is the inherent implication that anything is just as good as anything else. That my images are just as good as Cartier-Bressons, simply bacause I say they are. In this scenario, the teacher simply wouldn't bother to point out the flaws within a students work (and I'm sorry, but yes, students do have flaws) - and the student, for their part, simply would not learn.

    Am I getting off of the point again? Probably.

    I still, however, want to maintain a stance that advocates value judgments about art and photography, that allows for critics (especially the good ones - and we tend to know who the bad one's are), and that places certain canonical works and artists above the rest. These also, you will find, tend to be 'Universally accepted' canons (you've mentioned some pretty good ones yourself in the photography realm Ed), and I can't for the life of me see what is elitist about that?
     
  13. steve

    steve Member

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    As someone who has always wanted to own a quality velvet Elvis painting, my observation is that even the best of the velvet painters have not exploited the medium for all of its potential. There is no intrinsic reason (that I can think of) that a velvet Elvis painting could not be as enigmatic, meaningful, or classic as the Mona Lisa.

    I know that while there is only one Mona Lisa there are thousands of velvet Elvis paintings. However, one would also have to acknowledge that there are thousands of oil paint medium portraits of women - but only one Mona Lisa.

    I think it is more the perception of the viewer that they automatically categorize something (or make a value judgement) that a work is not as worthy of serious consideration ONLY because of its chosen execution medium (velvet painting), and its subject - a million times exploited pop icon visage.

    Andy Warhol made the banal meaningful - is it not possible for someone to make a velvet Elvis painting that is in every way equal to the Mona Lisa? If not - why not?
     
  14. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Ahhh, the guantlet has been cast...anyone want to buy a lot of LF and ULF stuff? My life is about to become simpler.

    My memory such as it is (declining by the moment) has memories of Elvis (fat and bloated) on his triumphant return tour. Mona Lisa's smile is the stuff of the unenlightened. Was that a blue or a white cape?
     
  15. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Since almost everyone in this thread has referred to the Mona Lisa as the criteria for "art", my irreverent question is, what is so appealing in that painting that is setting everyone's standard. I'm sure everyone will say it is that smile. That perfect smile.

    Interesting. While learning portrait photography it was common knowledge that if you encouraged the subject to lift the corners of their mouth in a slight smile you would also, due to how facial muscles are constructed, also add a sparkle to the eyes. It seems that the same muscles that work the corners of the mouth also work the corners of the eyes. Hence a more pleasant portrait. Portrait Photography 101.

    So in a thread that is comparing Mona Lisa with Velvet Elvis with each one being a standard - art vs trailer trash art, my question is...

    What is your personal reason for thinking the Mona Lisa is the standard for all art. Has this not just been drummed into our collective heads by the art snobs from generations past. Personally I do not find the Mona Lisa to be all that she is advertised, even with the simple trick of lifting up the corners of her mouth.

    Just an opinion

    Michael McBlane
     
  16. BobF

    BobF Member

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    I think Steve is on track. The right artist could use flourescent paint and black velvet to produce a master piece. Or if he is a good networking smoozer like Andy Warhol he can convince the right people that this really is folk art and it has just been overlooked as flea market art all these years.

    I can just hear it now ..."this $50,000 piece is an early Dali found in the back of a garage. No, no dawling not Salvador Dali, I mean that great newly discovered velvet artist Sandra Dolly.




    Good question blansky. It is the standard because "they" say it is.
     
  17. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    Right on blansky, I always thought "what is the big deal about this painting?" I am glad I am not alone. Personally I liked Rembrandt's painting better (although a different style) and Michel Angelo's sculpture. Of course there is no doubt that Da Vinci was also a genius, his anatomical drawings are amazing.
     
  18. sgrowell

    sgrowell Member

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    Suppose a photographer (like maybe HCB) was able to make a photograph with an evocative geometric arrangement of human forms doing everyday human stuff. That would be interesting. Suppose further the photographer was able to choose the moment so precisely as to capture especially evocative gestures and looks from said human forms. That would be (IMHO) impressive. Suppose further the photographer was able to do this over and over. That would be really impressive. Now suppose a whole bunch of humans decided independently of each other that this photographer's body of work really captured the feel of a particular era or people or whatever. Now that! Well that might get dangerously close to being Art. And for the record, I definitely think an Artist could produce a painting of Elvis on velvet that could qualify for the big "A".

    Steve Rowell
     
  19. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    Time to weigh in:

    What is hanging in my bathroom is decoration. It breaks up the wall and is seen and instantly forgotten. I don't think that is art. When I look at "Moonrise over Hernandez" I am captivated by it. I remember it, not because someone told me it is art but because it communicated to me and it captured my attention, my emotions and my imagination. I think if the viewer is captured by it and it communicates, then it is art to that person. If it communicates to a group of people, it is art - like a hot rod paint job. That is from someones heart and a communication. I will not rain on their parade if I don't see it. I do tend to dismiss cheap and gross as non-art. If the "artist" did not put effort in it - personal human spiritual best stuff and all - or if it is made from excrement or medical waste - DUDE - IT AINT ---

    A person takes 2 seconds for their digigizmo to warm up, they snap Ginger leaning against a pole and they download a capture to a printer. ---- nope - not art. Work of art = no work - no art. Now if a guy creates a background, lighting and does a lot of work forming a pose that speaks and then works it over in the 'puter for hours, then it is art, though not very permenant and not my cup of tea. But I can appreciate it.

    So - Elvis is art - It catches my attention because it is big and gaudy. It also makes me laugh and at least one of them was created from passion - So - simple - there you go

    ... isn't it easy now?? -Frank