authentic pathology and cozy passivity

Is art is the creation of an artifact that is it’s own argument? Essentially, It does not need a theory to define it, an expert scholar to contextualize it, or a given situation to render it meaning. So, a true work of art can be said to transcend  temporal relevance. After all, in terms of art, relevance is basically irrelevant. Also, does art have to be artless?  The question arises whether  a sincere and veritible pathology makes great art? That is, is art like Lucian Freud’s another success story of “aura-less” art within the context of Walter Benjamins Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Possibly. Are we irretrievably cut off from the past? …

---Walter Benjamin. 1936:The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values. All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war. War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system. This is the political formula for the situation. The technological formula may be stated as follows: Only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today’s technical resources while maintaining the property system. It goes without saying that the Fascist apotheosis of war does not employ such arguments. Still, Marinetti says in his manifesto on the Ethiopian colonial war: “For twenty-seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as anti-aesthetic ... Accordingly we state:... War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. ...Read More:

Lucian Freud’s pathology, for example, manifests itself directly through his art. Some critics claim it is a modern or post-modern pathology, the result of an inability to love. In it, everything becomes horrible, vulgarized and symbolic of horror; generalized over individuals and society as a whole and this includes the body politics and human body all seen as abominable when compared to the art as beauty school of traditional art. It would be hard to imagine Rubens or Poussin painting young girls as a rotting side of beef or a Da Vinci portrait with putrified flesh. Whether Freud engages in a courageous effort to represent things the way they are is debatable, given the high level of non-aesthetic content in the work. Certainly, its a championing of the ugly, beyond what could be termed a true depiction of a non-idealized world, even whn compared with something such as Baudelaire’s Flower of Evil.

---In our modern times we have art galleries targeting the shock effect, because that eventually will translate into headlines and money. Charles Saatchi – owner or Saatchi Gallery- regularly stages exhibitions with artworks that include pedophilic images. I wonder how much Saatchi would enjoy artworks depicting his own kids? But Saatchi knows very well the tricks of the trade, he knows that the contemporary art collecting scene is not dominated by students of the beautiful (read: ignorant mortals), but by investment bankers and Japanese businessmen who want to buy into a lucrative market. And so, artists like Freud became the reflection of our times when money has taken over as the sole criterion of whether or not we value a work of art. Some critics consider Lucian Freud as a genius, other are more lukewarm toward him.--- Read More:

So, the criticism against Freud is often one based on first ethics since nihilism is always in the foreground, beckoning our participation. Still, there is a certain logic in this, though limited and when linked to religion sometimes more ambiguous. A choice made to be dismissive of beauty. Its evident that some of the Old Masters were trying to make our world into a heaven, to reach for something ideal, like John Lennon’s Imagine. It can be argued that a Bacon, Freud and Hirst see something positive in a transformation to dark, the obscure and the hellish, of which it is neither or. It can be said that Van Gogh, Baudelaire, Goya, Rodin, Rembrandt et al. are considered great because of a vision that incorporated both elements within their work.

There is a large chasm between the spirit and attitude of a Van Gogh in comparison to say an Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst with the latter showing as an aesthetic, showing a disconcern, an absence of empathy for the individual resulting in an aggressive indifference to human concern, an art marked by indifference that maintains its interest and tension  as a reflection of a social symptom, a marketing phenomenon mirroring materialism, rampant consumerism and the social indifference symptomatic of this general ethos. Even the cheapness of daily existence is a commodity. Poverty is a commodity. As opposed to a van Gogh clinging precariously to a preciousness of life and his art’s determined engagement with it.

---Freud is a falsifier. And he is a falsifier to no apparent end. The falsifiers who made things too heroic or beautiful or cheerful—that is, the idealists—at least had a reason....But for some reason progressive politics has aligned itself with a theory of art that destroys all fantasy, or whose only fantasies are brutal and grotesque. Read More: image:

Donald Kuspit- who once called Duchamp a terrorist and compellingly supported the assertion-  has examined the Issue in his book The End of Art, in which artists like Freud are somewhat redeemed and perhaps seen as salvageable from the debris:

This group, which includes Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville, might be our artistic saviours, Kuspit claims, inasmuch as they represent values that simultaneously evoke the spirituality and humanism of the Old Masters and the innovation and criticality of the New Masters, enabling them to transcend the suicidal intellectualism and socio-political fixations of postart.

Kuspit traces the genealogy of the postart aesthetic from Marcel Duchamp’s announcement of an “entropic split” between intellectual expression and animal expression (which led to the reification of concept over form, and from there to a nihilistic pessimism) through Warhol’s commercialism (which blurred the line between art and business) to Hirst’s installations (which reflect postmodernism’s preoccupation with the banal objects and situations of our everyday lives).

Whereas modern art consisted of revolutionary experiments motivated by a desire to express aspects of the newly-discovered “unconscious mind,” Kuspit argues, postart is shallow, unreflective banality motivated by the desire to become institutionalized; that is, part of the mainstream (along with the commercial reward that such co-opted acceptability brings). In this regard, the messianic zeal with which Van Gogh approached his work represents an ideal because it demonstrates the kind of authentic and individualistic commitment to artistic expression that today’s commercialized postartists lack. The crucifixion has become a cabaret. Kuspit points out that it was to a very different kind of institution – the psychiatric ward – that modern artists were drawn. In an attempt to understand how the unconscious and madness can affect the creative process, modern artists turned their attention to the artworks of psychiatric patients. Modern art went on to find its greatest glories in the dark and mysterious wor

f the human unconscious. This is the anti-Allegory of the Cave, an emergence into night.

---Clement Greenberg once said that the Old Masters achieved what they achieved by way of their manipulation of pigments not by way of their “spirituality” (his word), but I think we now recognize that they couldn’t do what they artistically did without their spirituality and insight into human nature. I don’t think the past is particularly “exalted,” but much of its art seems much more mature than modern art. Nor do I think the future will necessarily be more “original” than the modernist past, but it will be as creative, if in a different way and direction. Picasso once said it took him a lifetime to learn to paint like a child. I think that it’s time for a new adult art. Children’s art and the art of the insane – so-called ”outsider art” in general – has outlived its usefulness as a model. The New Old Masters have turned to more mature, sane art for a model, both emotionally and aesthetically.--- Read More: image:

Acknowledging that modern art’s engagement with madness produced imperfect (but important) art, Kuspit’s new book attacks the postartists for substituting modern art’s authentic engagement with madness for the cozy passivity of the television documentary. Fearful of the dark and unpredictable world of the unconscious (largely because they are ignorant of it), postartists engage in mimicry of madness. The failure of creativity that characterizes postart, Kuspit notes, is highlighted in the way that postartists fail to imagine that there is a flicker of madness inside us all.

Typical postart values include: a tendency to mock posterity, a tendency to elevate the banal to the status of the enigmatic and the scatological to the status of the sacred, and a preference for concept-driven art. Postart is art at the service of the mind and the product of joyless, “clever, clever” theorizing. Entertainment value and commercial panache are valued more highly than artistic ability or aesthetic worth and painting is perilously close to becoming a sub-genre of performance art. Read More:

---But a larger issue informs the development of anti-aesthetic postart, namely, what T. S. Eliot called the “dissociation of sensibility,” that is, the separation of thinking and feeling (ratiocination and sentiment were his terms), which he thought (correctly) was a pervasive issue in modernity. Duchamp’s preference for what he called “intellectual expression” (“art in the service of the mind”) over “animal expression” suggests that his anti-art is an example of such dissociation. The integration of thinking and feeling remains a general issue of selfhood, all the more so in modernity, when the split is celebrated and thinking elevated over feeling. This occurs in art with the split between minimal-conceptual art and expressionism, with the former regarded as inherently superior to the latter, at least in some quarters.--- Read More: image:


“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, which is written by Walter Benjamin in 1936, is a seminal essay. It puts popular culture on the map by singling out what makes it structurally and socially distinct from other kinds of high art. By focusing on the technology’s transformation of the methods of production and reception of art, Benjamin creates a set of standards by which to judge popular culture on its own terms. Before it, writers on aesthetics considered mass culture a deficient version of classical art. After it, even those who disagreed with its proposals had to take popular culture seriously at least on the level of intellectual argument. In his essay, Benjamin brings to light many of popular culture’s implications for political life, implications that are more fully drawn out in the essay following. It was Benjamin thesis in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” that just as the infrastructure of capitalist society is constantly transformed by technological development, so is the superstructure, the difference being that the pace of change is slower in the super- structure.

---self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism. Communism replies by politicizing art." - Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction--- Read More:

The recent technology of mechanical reproduction has inaugurated a new epoch in sense perception analogous to that brought on by the printing press. Benjamin’s models were radio and newspaper, film and photography, because they were the most advanced instances of the trends he was describing. Since the processes he distinguishes, however, persist into the present, our examples will not be limited to what was available to Benjamin.

Graydon Parrish. Read More:

Benjamin’s brief survey of past techniques of mechanical reproduction (coinage, woodcutting, lithography) should not detain us as much as his central trope: the aura. The aura of a work of art is its presence in space and time, its distinctive existence at the place where it happens to be. Authenticity is one meaning of aura. Mechanical reproduction’s indiscriminate replication of the art object, its dispersion of it into “a plurality of copies,” dispensed with authenticity as a measure of value or even a meaningful concept in art. It did this by destroying the work’s temporal and spatial individuality, by causing it to lose its context and ‘place on line’ in the continuum of tradition. No longer moored to a specific physical location, the work of art could be activated through its image in places having nothing to do with its origins, usual environs or customary social uses and receptions.

---The sort of art that fetches the highest prices, that gets into the biggest shows and galleries, that gets written up the most is still art that is defined completely by its non-aesthetic content. This non-aesthetic content is socio-politics. But, as I have shown, this content, and most other contemporary content, is logically indefensible. Political art fails as both art and politics. Shock art fails because it fails to shock, fails to inform, and fails to support a consistent theory of progression. Furthermore, it fails because in order to achieve this massive failure it supplanted a much richer history of art. On the other hand, grotesqueries and other examples of the gratuitously ugly fail to provide meaningful content in that they are not relatable to any possible mythopoetics. They mimic historical forms without tying into the myths that gave life to these forms. That is, their depth is only a phantom. --- Read More: image:

The rise of mass culture thus coincided with the propagation of countless simulacra of precious works of art as well as their free-for-all dissemination to the public. Benjamin calls mechanical reproduction’s influence on classical culture “a far-reaching liquidation.” This liquidation or “catharsis” came about as a result of culture coming to be composed of free floating images that could be concatenated without regard for received meanings or past affinities. The technique of radical juxta-positioning, as practiced both by the early twentieth-century Surrealism and modern-day advertising, is ultimately the exploitation of a license inherent in culture’s material construction. To differentiate the new art from the irreplicable art of the Classical era, Benjamin invents the concept of the aura . Aura that mysterious sense of presence that an image often possesses when it is wrapped in the mantle of rite, reputation, or cultural prestige, vanished with the rise of mechanically reproduced images, according to Walter Benjamin  Read More:


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