[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 26

Gerry Coulter gcoulter at ubishops.ca
Wed Jan 27 04:00:21 EST 2010


For an assessment of the difference of reading words and pictures its diffiuclt to beat Roland Barthes The Fashion System or, a less tedious read, his Camera Lucida.


From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Christina Spiesel [christina.spiesel at yale.edu]
Sent: January 26, 2010 10:55 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 26

Dear All,

As I gave up watching the political ins and outs of the visual art world some time ago, all I can say to John is that I enjoyed reading his piece. This, of mine, will veer off into another directions or directions and should not be considered a reply to his in any sense.

But first, now that I've had a chance to ask the relevant person, I will clear up a prior posting. The comment regarding fitting punishment for misbehaving corporate persons is a shared creation -- partly mine and partly my husband's. Sydney, a man of great wit,  contributed the precise punishments to my mutterings about corporations are people#$@!*&%+++???? Then they should be liable like the rest of us.

Now, I will attempt to put together something I've been musing on as I've read through, and attempted to follow, this very rich conversation. I have been frustrated by our using the word "art" to stand for so many different things all at once when the conditions of work are so different. Interpretive artists (actors, musicians, etc.) have different circumstances from writers who can sit anywhere they find comfortable and produce words which may eventually be "fixed" in an electronic form, in stone, in bound books, as photocopies surreptitiously passed around, etc.  And visual artists generally have to produce the work in some specific material form (and I include precise pixels in this mix) in order to think through their ideas or to breathe life into them. And this difference is one on which many deep cultural biases hang. My canonist college experience did not admit art making into the for-credit category of courses. Visual art appeared only as art history.  And this distinction probably made a lot of sense to those founders of the curriculum because a) generally art making can make the hands dirty and therefore it violates ancient "taboos" [higher/lower/clean/dirty/thinking/craft etc.) and b) because the verbal had made off with the language of vision. (See Lakoff and Johnson: vision/insight/light of reason, and many more terms have been appropriated by philosophy and other disciplines of writing.) In this system, "looking" seems to have lower status than "seeing".  So much of my adult life, especially the last twenty years or so of it, has been engaged in thinking about/working out in words, what I came to feel as a visual artist: that my production of art was every bit as much about thinking as any poet's or philosopher's production. And since I began to teach law students about visual things, I have been operating on this boundary of words and pictures in the classroom nine months of the year. With this teaching has come an unexpected academic career and I have been writing about this topic one way or another for some time now.

In pursuit of grounding my musings in something other than my own set of associations, I read some work on how we read -- or what is known about how we read -- because I intuitively felt that there are differences between reading words and reading pictures. (nd, btw, dyslexics can often draw very well.) I'd come across the work of Gus Buswell who in the  1930s built an elaborate apparatus to track eye fixations in reading. His data outputs for subjects reading texts look a lot like ekgs (maybe) with little horizontal space between the ups and downs.  (Interestingly, poor readers have more jittery data outputs, a visual analog to having to go back to try to parse the same bits over and over again, where good readers have long smooth strokes, like good swimmers.) Buswell at some point decided to use his equipment and test readers looking at pictures and what emerged is that there is not a lot of uniformity in where people look first in a picture, or, where they wind up.  (So artists cannot guarantee a linear unfolding of meaning.) Now researchers have access to really sophisticated eye tracking and advertisers are using it to refine their work.  Why do I think this is important? Because words have a purely conventional relationship between their notation and the thing they represent. (Semiotics.) They are always abstract in this sense. Their meaning is revealed through grammar that defines a set of relationships. (Words torn from that context in production -- say a word in a painting -- still evoke this other context. We will read it as a noun, a verb, a command, etc.) Pictures have more different ways that they can evoke that which they represent. (Semiotics.) And words are made sense of in sequences (good for the production of propositions, whether in words or numbers) and so are time-based. One thing follows another even if in reading our eyes jump around. Pictures can bring into a single frame elements made up of different pieces of the reality to which they refer. (Think of any collage.)  Or the frame can seemingly snatch and fix a bit of reality (think photography). However the picture is operating, with whatever system of reference, the picture presents simultaneously occurring references occurring within a single frame. (I always find it curious that film scholars focus mostly on the narrative (time-based) elements in the film and rarely on the 29+ (video) or 32(film) frames per second. (Did any of you see Gordon's 24 hour version of Psycho where it was truly possible to appreciate Hitchcock's eye?) My bottom line: different forms come with different habits of mind.

But whether we are workers in words or workers in pictures, we all face the problem of supporting our lives and supporting our outputs. No creative person can exist in a vacuum and everyone needs to find a way to support their lives and work. So I am troubled by the discussion of complicity as a general category.  And, if any of us really could change the game all by ourselves, we'd have an unholy power.  I do believe this strongly, though:  Art is a mode, like science is a mode. Not all practitioners are idealistic; not all practitioners are ethical. But these modes are crucial for the human  societies that enable them. They are about exploring what is there -- outside and inside -- and reporting on those explorations to others (whether others ever get to actually see/read/experience it or not.) And slowly, a history of these explorations can accumulate....

This has probably exceeded anyone's patience. With the permission of the author, I close with some comments from a friend who went to Burma (Myanmar) with her husband who travels to teach and perform medical procedures in places lacking them. Stacey Rose wrote on return: "So one of the glaring paradoxes that I’m left confused by and questioning is: How is it that these most gentle, peaceful, kind, and hospitable people live in abysmal conditions and are still seemingly able to maintain a high level of humanity, dignity, and even joy? In the face of grave poverty we saw and heard much laughter, music, outpourings of generosity, demonstrations of compassion. Of course we are visitors, dipping into their world for a brief time, leaving it without a real knowledge of the daily hardships and complexities. But from this visitor’s perspective, it looks like hope."

John Haber wrote:

Since Deitch, quite rightly, came up as an example of the problem, can I
steal from my own words about him, not yet published?

Art's Evil Empire

Bringing Jeffrey Deitch to LA's Museum of Contemporary Art is like
asking Bill Gates to run Google. With street-level cameras and Google
books, the company that made a fortune off the promise to do no evil is
scaring people. So why not turn it over to the evil empire? As for MOCA,
the museum that almost bankrupted itself is finding its way -– at the
cost of funding and oversight from a wealthy patron and collector, Eli
Broad. So why not hire New York's flashiest dealer, rather than a
curator or academic?

I shall follow my own impressions here with reports on what some of New
York's other dealers think of the idea. What do they think of a
commercial dealer taking over a museum? What would they do given the
chance? And what will be the impact on the New York arts scene of
closing Deitch Projects? However, the reportage, still in progress
anyway, will be embargoed here for a month or two pending appearance in
Artillery magazine.

Deitch polarizes people. He does so with Deitch Projects, the Soho
gallery that thinks big. This is the gallery where everything seems to
blink on and off. This is the gallery that, in 2009, turned the death of
Dash Snow into a celebrity event and showcased Kehinde Wiley, with his
cross between street art and fashion magazine. Naturally it has welcomed
in the new year with Keith Haring. With the garish, steamy, seamy, and
unsettling Black Acid Co-op covering its three levels, Justin Lowe and
Jonah Freeman could have been targeting Deitch himself.

One could hear the hesitation between shock and awe when Jerry Saltz
broke the news on January 10. "It looks," he wrote online for New York
magazine, "like the sacrosanct wall between museums, galleries, and
private collectors in the art world is about to come down." Yet many on
the Web welcomed changing the rules of an oppressive art scene. One
could almost forget to ask just what had changed in putting money before
scholarship – or whether anything had changed. Deitch already had his
foot in almost every other door. When William Powhida savagely mapped
the 2009 art world in his Relational Wall, Deitch stood at its center, a
link away from Saltz, Jeff Koons, and dozens of others.

Since Deitch always scares me, this sure does, but he might be fine for
the job. He has art and business experience, both of which go into
running a museum. A Harvard MBA and a creator of Citibank's arts
advisory program, he gets things funded, and even his excess of
networking and connections may prove useful. Jeremy Strick actually ran
a superb museum on the score of art, just overspent on infrastructure
and exhibitions, a common enough recent failing. Deitch could shore up
MOCA's finances. While a sudden promotion from, well, promotion is
unprecedented, I should be the last to insist on the need for a degree
in art history or museum studies.

Deitch himself insists that he always ran his gallery "like an art
center, with historic exhibitions where only minor things were for
sale." On the down side, he could become a west coast Thomas Krens -–
another big ego with a taste for lavish, tacky displays. His connections
will probably not lead to conflict of interest, or will they? He
vacillates on his plans for future dealings, and he even has Eli Broad
as a client. As for his business sense, he all but begged to lose money
when he opened a warehouse-scale waterfront branch in Long Island City.
Not that Citibank has set high standards for financial management either

Scarier still, so much has not changed in putting commerce first. Think
of museum blockbusters or the Met's display of its wealth under Philippe
de Montebello. Think of the mainstreaming of P.S. 1 under MOMA or of the
New Museum under Lisa Phillips, once a polarizing figure herself at the
Whitney. Phillips is in fact just about to turn the joint over to Koons
and his collector, Dakis Joannou. Or maybe the whole affair is a New
Yorker's ploy to close Deitch Projects and restore some sanity. At the
very least, Powhida will now have to update Deitch's place in an evil
art world.

empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>

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