Is the art world at an all-time low?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Robert Kennedy, Nov 21, 2003.

  1. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    This sort of springs from both my art school rant and my morality debate.....

    In the last few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that art-world, and by that I mean the university crowd, the gallery crowd, et al, is at what is possibly an all-time low.

    Why I think this -

    1) A hell of a lot of art put out there seems to be nothing more than some form of gloomy mental masturbation. Everyone seems to focus on such things as "artist statements" and "the deep meaning". Screw the art. The statement is what counts. Even when it is an incoherent load of babble. Usually identified by the use of the word "post-modern" every six lines. It seems even the thought of a piece being done "just because I like the way it looks" is enough to send many people into an apoleptic fit. Seriously, I could take a picture of a flower and present it two ways to the same profs. One way would be "simply as nice, pleasing picture of a flower". This would get an immeditate "F". But if I take the SAME picture and write a statement about how the flower "represents the post-modern fate of our vegetable brothers" and title it "Cream Cheese and a Bagel", I would get an "A". Whatever happened to art that people simply WANT to make? No meaning, no big messages, just pictures that people think look interesting or nice?

    2) There is no focus on technique anymore. At least it seems so in photo. The UofA doesn't even offer a class on alternative processes! What the hell is THAT about? I have met grad-students who have no idea what I mean when I say "I work in 4x5". They literally ask ME questions. I mean besides the obvious TECHNICAL issue here, there is also the HISTORICAL issue here. I mean how much of our photographic history was done in LF? Well, MOST OF IT! Yet people have no idea what was used to make all these very historic photos. Sorry, but that sequence of the Hindenberg becomes more amazing when you realize the guy was shooting LF! And it explains things like the doubts about certain famous images (since LF is not the easiest to use). But why bother with that? We can just do what we want. It is all about the "statement" now. I mean seriously....they put some student work up recently, and I have NEVER seen such bad printing in my life. I mean, GOOD LORD! People, it is called SPOTTONE! USE IT! $12.00 will get you a 200 year supply. And a bad neg makes a bad print! We have one print now that someone made up in the student gallery that 100% pure mud! Everything falls between zones 3 and 5. No highlights, no shadows, just this muddy mess. Tons of dust too. I think the neg was stored in a sock drawer at some point.... And guess what...

    The thing is like 30x20!!!!

    What a waste of good paper! Look, nobody has to be Ansel Adams in the darkroom, but you MUST be able to make a good print in my mind if you are the college level.

    But then I guess I am just crazy....

    It's late....I'm going to bed....

    Your thoughts?
     
  2. FrankB

    FrankB Member

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    Robert, you're missing the point entirely!

    This print obviously symbolises the pollution in the post-modern environment and the way this is corrupting the beauty and purity of our Mother Earth. This also (in part) explains the dust, although a more holistic post-modern view would show that the Gaia spirit infuses this substance as much as it does the emulsion of the film. To disturb it would be to disturb the aura and post-modern presence of the image itself.

    I hope this clears up the matter once and for all.

    Regards,

    Frank

    P.S. Wibble! :smile:
     
  3. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I fear this problem exists in many disciplines. It seems that everything at some universities is politicized. Some folks blame it on the Vietnam war in the US - people who sought to escape the draft became permanent students - then moved on to the faculty.
    It's the disease of post-modernism. I certainly saw it in the graduates of broadcast journalism schools when I was doing time at TV stations.
    juan
     
  4. clay

    clay Subscriber

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    Robert:

    Your dismay is a common reaction to many academic disciplines (or lack of same) in the modern university system. Except for the professional schools (medicine, law, engineering business, some science ("Trade schools", the enlightened will sniff)), you will learn precious little that will ever be applied directly to what you do in life. What you REALLY need to know you will learn either on your own or in your job. Maybe the best way to look at the whole experience is in a detached way, and approach it as earning your 'union card', with a little ritual hazing thrown in. Learn to laugh at the ridiculous. There will be a lot of it around wherever you end up.
     
  5. lee

    lee Member

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    Robert,
    Clay is correct as usual. Remember that they are students too. When I went to art school, everybody was at a different level technically and emotionally. To expect otherwise is not practical. There are only a few instructors that I know that are worth their weight technically. You might apply to Rhode Island School of Design or one of the west coast school (Brooks or Art Center) This will get your foundation to work in the photographic field quickly. The main thing I would recommend is "to do your own thing and show only your best work and screw the others". Be there for yourself. Maybe just maybe it will start to rub off on some of the others. There was a saying we used in the military a long time ago, "Don't let the bastards get you down."

    lee\c
     
  6. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  7. BobF

    BobF Member

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    As a certified artistic community outsider and 1950's old guy I would like to assure you that what you are experiencing now is nothing new for the self appointed elites of education. It has nothing to do with Vietnam or the 60's or any of the changes during the last half century. If fact if you read biographies of accomplished people you will find it has been a problem in education for centuries.

    I fondly remember my arts class instructor showing his latest creations which can only be described as found-garbage-on-board-coated-with-black-tar. The "Art" was less then inspiring but the rapture and enthusiasum with which it was greeted by the faculty left me stunned. I no longer remember the phrases used to describe it but I am sure it was post-neo-modern-blah-blah something.

    I let the insanity get to me and switched majors, and am sorry. Aggies approach has a lot to recommend it, get the degree but learn elswhere. Sad!
     
  8. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    The couple of photography classes I had were taught by a photographer who was a professional and did art work that is held in several museums. He had no problem teaching proper technique, criticizing laziness in approach and lambasting some students for subject matter. However, if you strived for a technically good print, and showed continued improvement he was more open to subject matter. His main focus was on learning to see photographically and learning how to use materials to acheive that in a print.

    I had several conversations with him and his opinion was that to many people think they are artists and choose photography because they see it as an easy way to create art with little or no talent. His view was that a photographer who has a very good understanding of the medium, its various processes, strengths and limitations and has technique down as second nature will always produce superior work and in turn can produce art.
     
  9. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    My feeling is that you learn very little in school except facts, (law, medicine, architecture, accounting). The rest of everything else you learn by living and doing. You seek and gain knowledge and then hopefully you turn it into wisdom.

    As for photography I believe you do in school as we do in real life. You do whatever is necessary to achieve your goals ( feed your family etc) and you do dream projects in your spare time. As your life's goals are archieved (diploma, feeding your family, etc) you try to get to the point where you maybe can make a living off your photography dreams. If not, you do it in your spare time.

    Many photographers toil for years doing weddings, seniors etc so they can work in their own projects in their spare time.

    I don't believe any school is capable of helping you achieve your dreams. You just have to hang in there and get what you originally signed on for , the diploma.

    Michael MCBlane
     
  10. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    Great thread! Well from my art school experiences it was very hard to cope with the BS factor. I found myself totally ignoring the professors and just singling out the few students who I knew "Had the touch". I would look forward to seeing these special students work because I knew they were always producing something interesting. I guess that was my way of coping. Part of the issue may be the huge shift in mentality of what it physically takes to create art. Creating art used to be a journey, having a strong technical foundation which provided an ability to create. Now everyone is starting to ignore that, saying "the creation of art and how you got there is insignificant, all that matters is the final product". What people don't realise is the huge influence that the "creation" of the art has on the art itself!
     
  11. veriwide

    veriwide Member

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    Let me come at this from a different angle. I am a photographer, not an art critic, so the state of "Art" is of little concern to me. I too have seen a decline in proper photographic technique. I work in Digital prepress, scanning and working photos digitally for advertising agencies, and have come to this conclusion: Adobe Photoshop is killing photography. It is an odd thing for me to say, since for the past seven years Photoshop has been my bread and butter, and paid for my my photography habit.

    The is a widely used studio photographer in my area, and I have scanned thousands of his 4x5's, and he has never had a balanced white in a single shot. There is another widely used location photographer here, and in three years I have never seen an in focus shot from him. Both of these men feel that it should be fixed in Photoshop, and could careless that the use of a single filer, or the use of a loupe could potentially save their client thousands of dollars a year in digital imaging costs.

    The other side of this is the customer that goes to print with images they shot with a 800asa disposable camera, and expect Hasselblad quality.

    I know this sounds like I'm trying to complain myself out of a job, but my feelings come out of respect for the craft of photography that I work to better for myself everyday. I see too many people trying to do the least the can for their buck, and pass their problem on to the next person. Personally, I could not sleep at night treating clients this way.

    I am doing something about it though. I'll be going to Appalachain State University this summer to earn a photography degree. This thread has been one to malign academic photography, but I am not going for an "Art" degree, I'll be after a Technical Photograhy degree offered through the Technology dept. I am 34 years old, a 20 year photographer, and seven year photoshop professional. My goals are to hone my LF proficency through some well respected, at least in this area, photographers and teachers; and in turn to work to promote quality photography and photographers through proper technique and eduction, both of the public and in a professional capasity.

    Any asshole can take a blurry, color casted, or grainy photo and call it art, or worse bill a client for it, and I see this is becoming the norm. I feel that due to my current profession, I feel I am partly to blame for this. I am going to fix it.

    I typically step on a few toes when I rant about it, and I appologize if that is the case here. I respect and admire the opinions and experience of all on this forum, and I am persuing my path through my love of photography.

    I'll get off my high horse now, and get back to work.

    Patrick
     
  12. clogz

    clogz Subscriber

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    Well, mediocrity rules the day. We all know that and it's OK. However when it aspires to grandeur it becomes a pain.
     
  13. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    Robert, Like anything else school is a tool, a network for growing and learning the fundamentals also a way of discovering the path your most inclined towards for your future. What you do with this is your responsibility. My first go around in college was in business, once on my way this career choice though quite profitable left me absolutally empty. Already addicted to photography my wife and I decided to make a change in direction so at 24 it was back to school. Once their I to discovered how little these instructers really knew.So the next semester I only took classes that answered questions about my goal (mostly physics and art) and at the same time went to work in the industry. Starting part time in a custom print lab then assisting and so on. the great thing about doing this was while I was working I was learning what questions needed answers while I was in school. I did'nt hang around to get another degree but the learning has never stopped. Teachers are incapable of giving you your education, they're only a starting point from which you build your own career. Like any thing else colleges are financial institutions and their decisions are only partly in the best interest of the students so you have to take from them what is available and do the rest for yourself.
     
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  15. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    I think that Patrick is my long-lost twin brother.... :smile:
     
  16. ann

    ann Subscriber

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    Coming for both sides of the issue....
    I have been teaching since 1960 and am seriously over-educated. Graduate school was very painful, for I had this silly idea that people with expanded knowledge should be passing it on. This was true in several areas, including photography. Luckily I was fortunate to have an instructor mid way through one of my graduate degrees that was interested in technique and what it took to make fine prints (thank goodness!).
    So, I have had the mis- fortune of attending classes of "higher education" that didn't deliver what I had hoped.

    On the other side of the issue now I teach at an Art Center that is more a continuing education environment than academic. I cannot tell you how many people walk into my class indicating pass experience with darkroom experience (in college) who don't have a clue; and who leave saying so after working in a different environment. I would also hope that in a more tradition educational environment this effort to excellent did not lapse.

    Not to sound self serving but I have had students tell me they learn more in one evening than in year to, "I know you want me to make that print better, but it is fine for me....

    I do know that I have the credentials to teach at the college level but won't last long as I feel it is important to be in the trench with my students to help guide them with technique rather than sitting in an office or working on my own projects. My peers would not be happy.

    As Aggie has indicated (unfortunately) many of us have learned much more out side the "official education level", than in that area. Thank goodness, I had the fortune to happen on to someone who really turned around my world and I hope I have had and will continue to have that effect on my students.

    The reality is that all those initial behind my name are not important; however what is; all those experience have brought me to what I am today. Hopefully a decent instructor, who encourages, prods; pokes and encourages my students to do more than "it is just good enough”. (for what?)

    It is encouraging that many people are finding other areas of opportunities to learn the basics and continue to struggle to really find their way.

    I certainly continue to get more gray hair and grind my teeth about folks who are “teaching” ,who are don’t know flat from contrast; but what I try to remember is just to do what I can do with each individual students to be sure they know and are making the best print they can at this moment.
    Which reminds me of a situation years ago when one of my high school students told me that an insturctor at a "year book" camp told them Iwas crazy" ( I was teaching my students to print to dmax). My comment was "how did your prints hold up against the others". response "we won first place" ...... So, what else can one do but continue on swimming up stream.
    ONe of my favorite sayings is " you can lead a horse to water; you can't make it swim on it's back".

    Which brings me back to degrees and offical education. Some times I wonder ..... Sad !
     
  17. Michael A. Smith

    Michael A. Smith Subscriber

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    I believe I wrote about this extensively here some time ago and relatively recently at that.

    Graduate schools in photography will kill photography for you if you go along with standard agenda. If you do not, as you do not, there will be constant war. You are naive to expect otherwise.

    Ann mentioned that her students learned more in one evening than they did in a year of school elsewhere. I do not doubt it.

    Forget wanting to learn anything in graduate school about photography--except on your own. Why anyone would pay those steep tuition bills for nothing is a mystery to me, but as P.T. Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute."

    I, as well as a number of others--none of us teaching graduate programs--can teach you more about photography in a week than you will learn in any graduate program in the country--and what any of us cannot fit into that week, we can point you in the right direction to find on your own.

    By this time, you know well what graduate school is all about. Why not drop out and get on with your life, instead of wasting valuable time? Life is only once, now, and too soon, death is very final.
     
  18. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    No Robert, I think you are entirely sane, judging by the conclusions you have reached. However, I think you are a little off in your premise; the community you speak of is not at an all-time low. Its been there for a long, long time and you've just discovered it.

    My observation is that most current and past masters did NOT study photography at the graduate level. Most that I have noted didn't study it in college at all. They learned on their own or with the help of a few short workshops.

    If you want to run around doing art-school type stuff, you might do very well in the point-counts on photo.net or photoSig. I don't think you want to do that though.

    Strike out on your own and blaze your own path. Don't just follow like art school wants you to. Through your own self effort, try to get into the lead; you will quickly pass a lot of followers and be well ahead of them. Good Luck!!
     
  19. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Rants are good! "Is the art world at an all time low...", who knows for sure. You have to remember this is an era of PC - we are suppose to be nice to everyone. The academic world is feeding us their own ideas, the business world requires that we come from one of the 'centers of education', the military has to be nice to everyone - you have nice little short, shirts and shoes just for PT now. Forget about all of that, there are many that will share what they know about photography. Be happy that these people have the income to purchase photographs to hang on the walls of their office and homes - it creates new markets for all of us and keeps the films, papers, etc that we love still available. While in college I took a photography class and had to wait 25+ years before I stepped back into a darkroom - just in time to have the digital revolution tell me what I love the most is dead - Hah!

    If you love what you do, do it..there are more people working pt/pl, gum, and all the other alt. process than there were 25 years ago - and they all seem to want to share. Get the degree, if that is what you really want, then find a nice small college and start showing the students what real art is.

    I for one feel would love to find someone close by to help me improve my work...in the mean time, this is where I turn for assistance..not a bad place at all....
     
  20. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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  21. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    While I appreciate the support, I think we have drifted a bit off topic. This is just a rant about the art world in general! I mean seriously there is some hard-core CRAP out there and if you say "The emperor has no clothes or artistic vision and is a joke!" you get ignored.

    Let me hear about what you guys have seen to support or deny my premis here.

    Example. I had to go to the "Seniors" exhibit at school (and don't get me started on that....my conclusion...Oddly enough sculpture seems to be doing o.k....), and I wandered over to an opening at the UofA Art Museum. This is where they stick "The good stuff."

    Right.

    Now some of it was great. But some just boggled the mind.

    This was my favorite to illustrate that the art world is at a new low.

    One piece called "Ultra Geek".

    Was it a painting?

    No.

    Was it a photo?

    No.

    Sculpture?

    Not really....

    Someone had gone out and bought about $500.00 worth of Star Wars figurines and simply placed them on two wooden platforms.

    The best part?

    This was the "pro" work. This guy (his name I forget...it wasn't worth remembering), simply placed pre-bought items on some boards and then SOLD IT to someone else for what I am sure is a fortune. It was "on loan" from a private collection you know....

    Now, if I whad excess cash, I MIGHT buy this if it had some rare figurine that the Ubergeeks on E-Bay (and I say that with all kindness) might pay a fortune for in five years, on it, but only as a physical investment. That Star Wars stuff sells after all.

    But to buy it as art? And to sell it off as YOUR art (the artist to me is the team who created these things for the company that sold them, not the guy who epoxied them to some plywood)?

    I mean come on?

    So what are your stories? Let me hear about the "Dog Crap on Plate #5" that sold for $23,000 while they scoffed at the work of Weston.
     
  22. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    My story?

    At the risk of bearing an "Ultra Liberal" label (Frankly, Scarlet - I DON'T give a damn!!), I choose NOT to be the ultimate, or even an intermediary in the "This Is Art - And That Isn't" crowd. I cannot define "art"; and whatever provisional definition I might pre-consciously harbor is liable to be vastly different (yeh, I can hear it now ... "half-vast) from someone else's.

    There is one path that seems to work very well for me - I call it the "Look - There is Another One On The Right" tactic. If I see something offensive or "not to my liking" , I'll remember that there is probably another one to its right, or left, or above, or in another room, or, or...
    and not waste what little energy I have bitching about that particular one.

    If someone else DID like it - or there was some kind of "swindle" or "con job" going on - passing off "crap" to an unsuspecting public ... That might not fit within *MY* frame of morality - but I can't remember anyone giving me the responsiblity, or more important - the authority - to do anything about it.

    Life is short. Too short to waste it in futility. I'll worry about my own work, I'll knock myself out, merely trying to satisfy the toughest, and pickyest critic of all ... myself. The others? They are certainly entitled to their opinions ... some of those could contain valuable information/ insights ...

    In the meantime, I'll abstain from agonizing over what others present - and turn my eyes to the infinite beauty that DOES exist in this world.
     
  23. Sean

    Sean Admin Staff Member Admin

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    Robert, you should create some of this bogus art and sell the hell out of it. When you get your first Art Magazine interview, come clean and say that it's all crap, means nothing, and was done to prove the state of art in today's society, hehe. For your first work, I suggest purchasing 10 barbie dolls, melt all of their hair together into one big clump, then nail them to a rough sheet of plywood using railroad spikes. Do some paint splattering over them. Even better, urinate on them for maximum controversy. Title it "Perfection".
     
  24. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    No...I think that won the Turner prize a few years back....

    Ed- What I find interesting is this -

    Some of these ummmmmm....."unique" pieces come out of the "anything can be art" definition. Fine. Decent philosophy. Thsi obviously came about as a response to "the norm".

    But now it seems that the "tyranny of the canvas" is over, and now we have "the tyranny of whatever-is-popular-with-six-guys-sitting-in-a-loft-in-SOHO".

    Gallery space will ALWAYS be limited. So something has to get the boot. But now it seems more and more that the boot is being given to anything that doesn't fit the "anything can be art, as long as my friend Jobert says it is art" mentality out there.

    Example -

    I have heard people COMPLAIN, yes, COMPLAIN, that a couple of years back, Jack Dykinga, David Muench and other Arizona nature shooters got an exhibit here and in Phoenix. It was "A TRAVESTY!" and the space should have been used for "real artists". But I asked these same people (some of whom SWORE that the whole exhibit was some sort of conspiracy by Arizona Highways Magazine), if Ansel Adams could be considered an art photographer I got a resounding "Of course!"

    Excuse me?

    What is the difference here? Besides some Quickloads and a propensity to use chromes instead of Double XX? They of course said "Ansel never went commercial."

    RIIIIIIIIIIGHT!

    Point being the people who rebeled against the tyranny of the old system have installed a new tyranny which dictates that your work must be "XXXXXX" and NEVER "YYYYYYYYY".
    And thus you get people who think Richard Prince is (and yes I have heard people say this), "A brilliant PHOTOGRAPHER" (no, he is just a clever thief), but the people who did the ads he steals from are all "sell-outs".

    How does that work?
     
  25. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Ed, very well stated. I agree with your sentiments in their entirety. I would rather make photographs that are suitable for display then to sit and idly pontificate about the sad state of the art world. Self pity is a terrible emotion.
     
  26. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    robert:

    i showed some photos to a gallery in boston's south end. i had an audience with the husband of the owner, after spending about 1 1/2 hours with me discussing my technique &c he said " this is all nice, but it isn't art" .. he pointed to piles of balls / junk all over the floor ( i thought they were "cleaning the space" cause it looked like hell) and he told me "THIS ... IS ART" ... !
    that was probably 7-10 years ago, and it sounds like they are teaching the same BS at art school today ( i am sure the starved-artist - was taught how to walk the walk and talk the talk at the musuem school or wherever he / she graduated from)

    you should see if there is a class where the required reading is the emperor is wearing no clothes! :smile:

    it'll be over before you know it
    don't lose your sense of humor :smile: