[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 4

Christiane Robbins cpr at mindspring.com
Thu Jan 7 05:02:31 EST 2010

Hi John -

Thanks so much for you "draft".

Just want to make clear that i don't identify myself a Marxist -  
although my graduate studies at Cal Arts were during a period where  
critical theory was becoming entrenched and serving as a point of  
reference ( hopefully not illustration) for art practices.  Point in  
fact, I was raised in family straight out of  script of "MadMen".   
This may have more to do with my perspective than anything else!

I admit that Purity is an concept that I haven't given much thought to  
in regard to contemporary art practices ... in fact ... I think that  
the last time I heard that issue raised was during 'cocktails" with  
Clement Greenberg during a conference.  You have  certainly given me  
reason to dig thru my files -

Thanks again,


What I have mused on is basically coming to terms with
On Jan 6, 2010, at 6:00 AM, John Haber wrote:

> I'm hearing a couple of points stressed by everyone here.  One  
> addresses
> notions of the arts as something "pure," separated by other than
> esthetic motives and distinct in form or content from the rest of
> culture and society. This notion is wrong and harmful, and the
> pejorative and disturbing connotations of complicity should not  
> obscure
> that.  Second, the 20th-century Marxist thinkers who introduced the
> critique of complicity need not be seen as intending to fall into the
> first trap.
> This is valuable, but I still think that it overlooks something.  I'm
> embarrassed to return to my own version of a critical history, since  
> you
> all clearly didn't find it interesting.  But bear with me.
> I singled out a second wave of developments in critical theory,  
> starting
>  around 1970, rather than the earlier period.  Consider four reasons.
> First, it represents a development of critical theory (an increasing
> buzz word) that more explicitly addresses the "fine arts" and art
> institutions.  While, for example, that short reader edited by Hal
> Foster, "The Anti-Esthetic," included Habermas with his framework of
> communicative action beyond art, other changes in the air included the
> rest of the October editors in the domain of contemporary art, T. J.
> Clarke and others in art history, feminism, and media studies (yes,
> thankfully including "Sweet Dreams").  In mainstream American
> philosophy, there's a parallel in the institutional definition of art.
> This trend continues ever since.
> Second, rightly or wrongly, critical theory foregrounded the very  
> attack
> on purity as never before.  That includes ideological purity  
> associated
> with Benjamin, formal purity associated with Adorno, and idealism
> associated with Lukacs, regardless of their motives.
> Third, critical theory reacted to the realities on the ground.  Art  
> had
> seen Greenberg's assault on kitsch and Kantian influence, although  
> I'll
> admit to having finished the third critique without quite  
> understanding
> it! It had seen the "triumph" of American painting and the change from
> the "imaginary museum" to the very real post-Hoving museum.
> Last and most important, it resonated with artists.  Artists developed
> new approaches to appropriation, feminism, new media, neo- 
> expressionism,
>  and even earlier Fluxus, to name just a few.
> However, all this was what I'll call B.C.:  before Chelsea.  One could
> talk of an institutional and economic nexus, but one galleries still  
> lay
> further downtown, and one could visit pretty much all of them
> comfortably in a day.  Although Pollock, say, had made the national
> magazine, the shift to celebrity artists like the YBA, star architects
> for museums, the assimilation of alternative museums by major one,
> globalization and the price boom were all still to come.
> On the one hand, this makes critical theory look even more pertinent,
> even prescient.  On the other hand, art's success escapes the  
> critique.
> Contemporary art at its most disturbing has continued to reject
> "purity," with larger and larger multimedia installations, like New
> Year's in Times Square.  In other words, be careful what you wish for.
> In the abstract at least, and in museums, I'm left deeply  
> pessimistic in
> a way that much of this thread is, I think, not handling.  I just  
> happen
> to be at Duke University this week, where the Nasher Museum is a  
> largely
> empty tribute to family money. In galleries, though, I often come away
> elated.  There is still a break with "purity" that opens possibilities
> without pandering.  One can see it in a revival of abstract painting
> that is not all that abstract, as well as wonderful multimedia and
> photography projects.  Still, it's not as if these efforts disrupt the
> system, fail to reflect it, or miss being absorbed by it.
> All that's why I felt it helpful to introduce the slippery  
> approaches of
> post-structuralism.  I'm not wedded to them.  I'm more political and
> formal myself.  For me, irony is still a term with the meanings it had
> in New Criticism!  However, these approaches, like indeed good old
> irony, describe how art by its nature slips out from its apparent or
> intended closed structures.  That describes what went wrong, but also
> offers grounds for admiration and hope.
> Thanks for bearing with such a long, spontaneous draft.  I was  
> composing
> it in my head in the middle of the night.
> John Haber
> http://www.haberar
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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