Thursday, February 05, 2004

Trying to make a spark


First off, I can tell you that some of you will not be pleased to hear that I am about to link to a right-wing publication. Apologies, but as I such a voracious reader of everything that is printed (joke!) I only just discovered that a certain Mr. Terry Teachout not only writes one of the few blogs dedicated to things aesthetic (sorry about the big word, but I gotta practice for the vernissage tonight). But he also writes for (and probably gets paid for it, too!) a magazine that would make a mother see red. On the other hand, there are a couple of people I know who probably think that it is too soft. As it is likely to cause consternation, I will refrain from referring to it by name, ok?

So much for the lead in. Well, Mr. Teachout takes four and a half pages (six if you count the ridiculous amount of space left for the headline and the advertisement at the end) this month, in the un-namable magazine to explain to his readers how and why they should buy contemporary art, and how and why it does not have to be expensive. On the surface, a very nice and easy public service announcement worthy of the American Ad Council.

But like some of those PSAs, taking a centrist view glosses over and ignores some very significant points. In short; Mr. Teachout tries to join the "serious" art crowd, by touting all his recent purchases. OK, now if you are so inclined you can go back to work, or whatever else you were doing - that is my point, but, I'm probably going to use something like a gazillion and a half words to hammer it home. Something about the sense of frustration that I've been harboring for a couple of days now.

While he says at the beginning of the article "Today, though, my involvement with the visual arts is a passion." He then spends the last three pages making excuses for not buying more that range from "I need to take a pause and learn more than I know now." To running out of wall space, which contradicts the PSA nature of the piece, and makes it read much more like he wants the 27,000+ readers of the un-nameable magazine to congratulate him on his magnificent purchases.

Mr. Teachout then makes it entirely obvious who he is writing for, by bashing The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness by Virginia Postrel. Choosing to focus on her line "Crate & Barrel sells framed reproductions of Mark Rothko paintings for $499." Instead of "Some just want a more attractive living room." Just slightly above it. His distinction between "serious" art and by extension, what I would assume is marginal art, only serves to puff up his feathers. He himself states "I would have wanted to own [Piazza Rotunda by Willaim Bailey] simply because of the way it looks. In fact, that is the only good reason to buy a work of art: so that you can look at it every day, as often as you want." Mr. Teachout sounds pretty darn convincing that Piazza Rotunda is making his living room a prettier place. Even though he continues to write "I was nonetheless forcibly struck by how little her words correspond with my own experience." Going that extra step and implying that his living room is better and prettier than a living room with a $500 reproduction of some Mark Rothko painting is the equivalent of dissing Bela Fleck because he hangs out with the Dave Matthews Band. - Which is something I do (dissing Bela Fleck because he hangs with DMB, I just don't get much of that Jam Band stuff) but when I do it, people stop paying attention to me.

Making a distinction between serious and marginal in any artistic endeavor is only going to come right back at you and bite you on the ass. From his writing I would assume that "a mediocre lithograph... by Joan Miro or Marc Chagall" would qualify as "serious" art despite his reservations about it - and last I heard philography is a pretty damn cool hobby.

Then to tie this thing up Mr. Teachout continues: "To begin with, Postrel seems to think that the only people who buy "serious" art instead of mass-market "framed reproductions" are snobs out to make money and impress other snobs. Had those been my motives, I would have failed dismally." From the tone, namedropping, and medium in which he writes, I can only imagine that Mr. Teachout was has, in fact, succeeded quite well.

There are a couple more juicy tidbits in the article, specifically "When neither scarcity or fashion is at issue, what accounts for the difference in price between roughly similar objects?" But, I'm going to have to leave them for later. Perhaps much later, as tonight I'm heading over to the Musee d"art Contemporain to check out the vernie for Dominique Blain's show. I'm looking forward to the potential chemical reaction that might happen when White Cube meets Anti-White Cube!

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