From a very extensive review of Donald Kuspit’s The Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist which in part, dismantles Kuspit’s argument and by extension also reinforces much of what is written. The problem is that Kuspit is a near genius, collecting and discarding contexts, moving through stations on the cross and then wandering off in new directions as the interest arises. A difficult sort to pin down and one who defends his positions courageously and with great clarity and grace. His defense of his statement that Marcel Duchamp was a terrorist like Hitler seemed absurd, but in the end, totally coherent.
His Matrix of Sensations article proved how Kuspit, the Old Master, is still well ahead of the curve. Kuspit’s diagnosis of bourgeois society, our fascination with kitsch and our predisposition for the tragic view of life shows how the false self of routine experience is more elusive than we think. But, its hard to discern betrayal. The artist’s bending to pressures imperative to the renewing characteristics of modernism inevitably lead to the reproduction of gestures in parody making the liberation of ego from the tragedy of life a more ardurous task. The clever and facile, the ruse is much easily facilitated than the creation of another world of truer, more genuine emotional feeling….
Turner:And the Zeitgeist is not snobbish, does not disdain to recycle old cultural patterns, Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Romantic. It has no fear of kitsch. Kuspit’s discerning analysis reveals almost unconsciously how timid, how shamingly, shudderingly fastidious contemporary avant-garde artists have become about the possibility of imputing to them the remotest hint of the failure to recognize kitsch, or of the naive enjoyment of it.
In the real world kitsch has triumphed; and it returns transvalued, in what I would maintain is the brawlingly healthy new art of the popular imagination, the art of the always-emerging technological economy. What Marx calls bourgeois false consciousness has, like the humble mammals of the Cretaceous, survived the extinction of the grand dinosaurs of revolutionary honor and existential authenticity. In his despair Kuspit, turning against the enthusiasm of a lifetime’s advocacy of modernity, seems on page 109 to give grudging admission of the claim of the classical to artistic legitimacy. But his distrust of bourgeois capitalist society is so deep that he cannot see the profoundly healthful new springs of inspiration that might be beginning to flow within it, inspiration that has discounted the fear of kitsch and has thus discovered a new innocence, a new classicism….
…Abstraction, modernist theoreticians declared, was essentially superior to representation, because while a realist painter merely imitated what was before him, the abstractionist created another real object, with its own presence and being in the world, neither tied to a comparison with its model nor appealing to the bourgeois appetite for inauthentic sentimental reminiscence. Postmodernist artists took this idea a step further, arguing that representation was part of the whole late capitalist system of economic and cultural hegemony that had made genuine experience impossible. After all, they argued, the capitalist production system was based on the exact reproduction of identical objects, advertised to its alienated consumers by mass-produced images that commodified all the techniques of traditional representational art. “Pop” artists such as Warhol and Lichtenstein, recognizing that if they themselves were to become successful their images would in turn be reproduced and sold as part of the system, attempted to short out the vicious circle by preemptively adopting the coarsest and corniest of representational techniques–the advertisement, the cartoon, the package, the publicity photo. They then altered the resulting images by changes in scale or medium, appealing to bourgeois buyers through the depiction of familiar capitalist icons, but preserving their own artistic integrity by the use of abstraction to satirically undermine representational techniques and the socio-economic system they supported….
…What the artists and theorists of this movement missed was that their argument depended upon a premise that seemed obvious to them, and that has been virtually unexamined, though it still underpins the entire edifice of their thought and practice. The premise is that abstraction creates objects that are more concrete, more real, more akin to other actual objects in the universe than does visual representation. An abstract work of art, so the argument goes, is more like a rock or a tree or a living animal than a picture of a rock, tree, or animal would be; rocks, trees, and animals are innocent and don’t represent, they simply exist. They possess the true Heideggerian qualities of Dasein, of Being There, unlike the compromised and self-conscious products of commercial technology. Primitive peoples, so the reasoning went, share this innocence, this unmediatedness, this direct contact with Being; the abstract artist labors to recover that authenticity, and this was the purpose of his art….
…Kuspit shows unflinchingly the arrogance and megalomania of the modernist and postmodernist avant gardes alike. Such arrogance cuts one off from certain experiences, blinds one to the solid virtues of the objects of one’s snobbery, leads one to ignore sciences and perspectives whose origins cannot be traced to one’s own viewpoint. Artists may not only be happier, but capable of greater achievement if they choose for themselves the old role of servant rather than unelected mental health director, amateur surgeon, scourge of the middle classes, fire-and-brimstone preacher, or puritan iconoclast. Kuspit’s invectives against the postmodern artists he discusses may or may not be deserved; perhaps the problem with the Warhols and Koonses and Schnabels is not that they seek to please a public,
that they adopt the gigantic and inhuman mask of the avant-garde artist, with its professions of superiority to hype and the base motivations of the marketplace, as their justification. Without that mask, they would be charming jokesters, harmless entrepreneurs, talented celebrities at best….Read More:http://frederickturnerpoet.com/?page_id=149
Kuspit:One can make the same criticism of Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe,” and maybe the reality of Marilyn Monroe as well, who Billy Wilder said he was not sure if she was a human being or a synthetic creation, synthetic plastic, he said, as Redon made of Manet. Redon, who wrote some rather brilliant criticism, said Manet’s figures lacked “soul”—inner life is what he meant. There is certainly none in Andy Warhol’s media mannequins, which is what he paints and what our celebrity society is saturated in….
…Ours is a business culture not a religious culture, and it is impossible to find spiritual significance in what Warhol called business art. I submit to you that Warhol’s art is a celebration of business, which is in part why it sells. It is certainly a long way from the color mysticism of the interiors of the churches that Kandinsky visited and that his early abstract works struggled to emulate. Corporate headquarters are not churches, even though their decoration with works of art are attempts to give them spiritual significance. Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe, which I showed you before, 1962, is also irreconcilable with Kasimir Malevich’s abstract icons, which he compared to spiritual experiences in a desert, the proverbial place to have them.
In contrast, Warhol’s work epitomizes the business materialism of the crowd, it’s what I call crowd art. Ironically, Warhol’s cynical attempt to turn the dead actress into a sacred presence—and she was very good business, like Elvis—reinforces her profaneness and spiritual insignificance. Gold is either filthy lucre, or, alchemically speaking, ultima materia, that is, the ultimate sacred substance, and Warhol’s perverse fusion—and perversion is another major strategy in art, and irony is part of it in contemporary art—perverse fusion of its opposed meanings in the socio-cosmetic construction of Marilyn Monroe is the ultimate materialistic nihilism. It is the exemplary case of the confusion of values that occurs in a business society, and that Kandinsky fought against.
What I am arguing is that the spiritual crisis of the contemporary artist is greater than Kandinsky’s. Kandinsky knew art was in spiritual crisis, whereas today’s materialistic artist doesn’t see any spiritual crisis. All that matters is materialistic success. Read More:http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v2n1/gallery/kuspit_d/reconsidering_text.htm