getting serious: joke on who?

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? ( Paul Gauguin painting title) .Keith Martin-Smith has written that humour- joke/irony- can be a powerful part of art. BUT, complexity and skill of execution can and do exist, representing the single, most important things to consider in judging art. To Martin-Smith, art has become an inside job about an inside joke that fewer and fewer people are interested in hearing:

The postmodern movement made a solid contribution by taking modernism to its logical conclusion; it serves us well by pointing out that all standards of judgment are based at least in part in some kind of cultural bias; it legitimately freed up unconscious and conscious systems of oppression that favored art from one kind of group over another kind. And it correctly pointed out that absolute standards in art, morals, or science are impossible — the standards themselves are not fixed and evolve, along with everything else in the known universe.

---A new movement that believes the artist need not be an angry social outcast or critic or indifferent raconteur, but once again a revolutionary. Warhol, Litchenstein, and Pollock are dead, Serrano's mediocrity has been exposed in his banal commercial work, Thomas Pynchon and Don DeDillo continue to write for a singular audience who enjoy inside jokes about inside jokes. Let us turn the page, and leave these artists where they belong: in history books.--- click image for more

But while all these points are true, they can be taken to a point of self-contradiction and self-parody. For while it’s accurate to say no standards can be held in a fixed manner, it is also accurate to say that some things can be relatively more true, more good, or more beautiful than other things, even if we can’t speak about these things being rooted in an absolute. In fact, the very statement “there are no absolutes” is itself a statement that purports to be true for all cultures in all times in all places always — it cannot be true, because it violates its own stance.

---Martin-Smith:Now, this same idea applies to art and art criticism. Some things are indeed more beautiful than others, depending on what standards are used. Is the Mona Lisa more beautiful than the afore-mentioned “artist's” work of fish in blenders? Of course it is, unless your only standard for “art” is “controversy”, in which case the mutilated fish are more “beautiful”. click on image for more

The discoveries of the genetic component of disease, for instance, are more true than the mythologies of ancient medicine, which operated on ideas of bodily humours. Or in science, the idea that the earth rests on turtles “all the way down” is less true than the idea that the earth is in orbit around the sun — these are not equal “myths” of the universe at all. In morality, the idea that “all people are created equal” is better than the idea of “an eye for an eye” or “white males have the right to vote and own property,” or “slavery is morally just because the Bible says it is.” In art, Guernica is more beautiful than Fountain or Piss Christ, which actually have no intrinsic beauty at all. Read More:

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