13 July 2010

"Cost Is Not Value"

Following up my post yesterday, an article in the NYTimes looks at a recent exhibit on forgeries at the National Gallery in London, and what forgeries and related high art hijinks tell us about how silly the world of high art is and how simple it ought to be. It affects to rise somewhat above "the populist suspicion that much art is really just a scam," but doesn't by much, and pokes a finger in the eye of "dubious connoisseurship." But most people will be nodding their heads.

I have a conflicted relationship with art criticism of all kinds (literary, music, performance, visual, whatever). I am a critic myself, both as a blogger and professionally (academic literary criticism), and see my criticism as part formal exercise and part rationalization of subjective perceptions that are heavily conditioned by culture. I enjoy the critical exercise, but it's a cheap thrill. Opinionated bloviation in serious dress. I don't believe a word I say.

But still I seek out and am influenced by the criticism of others, and there is no question that expert criticism shapes popular aesthetics. When what I like and what others say I should like happen to coincide, I am very satisfied. When they do not, I can find myself a bit vexed, perhaps afraid that, despite my best efforts, I will never graduate from the ranks of the ignorati.

The canard goes, " I don't know art, but I know what I like." Why can't that be sufficient? Over time, I'm relieved to find that increasingly it is becoming enough. I'm becoming cheerfully ignorant and vulgar. I recently came across some simple photographic advice that summarized my emerging non-philosophy of aesthetics: "Look at collections of other people's work, go for the pictures that instantly appeal. If you have to think about an image to like it, then that's not what you are looking for here. This is not meant as an intellectual exercise."

Art is not an intellectual exercise. 'Nuff said.

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