We know what we like ……

The Daily Mail have recently carried out a study: ModernArtDailyMail on people’s viewing habits of contemporary art in order to draw conclusions about what constitutes ‘good’ art. The measure used was the amount of time people spend viewing works of art. This was used to gauge how interested/stimulated they were about the work of art. Hmmm, there is a world of an assumption there. Since when does the amount of time you spend viewing a work of art relate to how much you like it, engage with it or are stimulated by it? It is a fair guess I suppose, but only if you are comparing artworks of a type with each other. The viewing convention changes when you are looking at a conceptual art installation. How can you compare the amount of time spent viewing a Whistler with the amount of time spent viewing a cow sliced in half? After all, the thought, experience and world of the painting is contained primarily WITHIN the painting in a Whistler, whereas in the Damien Hirst the concept lives outside the frame of the artwork itself. The life of the art object is a question raised that sits in a broader context. So while I am aware that all art is created within a context, the Hirst is all concept. You don’t need to look at concepts: they simply jog a train of thoughts. With the Whistler the train of thoughts is largely stimulated by the nuances within the painting as it is viewed. Good heavens it seems as though I am defending the Hirst…. I’m not, I don’t like it and would give it a cursory glance if passing it in a gallery, or perhaps slightly more, in order to better understand the technical processes involved in pickling half a cow. However, the Mail article simply dumbs down views of contemporary art and panders to ignorance. Its a blindingly crass way to analyse interest in art ….. or is it? It IS true that when I go to a gallery I spend longer looking at works of art that I like. Indeed my strategy when I go to a blockbuster like the Royal Academy’s Van Gogh show last year was to home in on a few images and spend a long time close up on them, even making notes and quick sketches. What I object to (apart from half a cow) is the simplistic justification this survey proposes that there is an equation ‘short time looking at art = bad art’. Now it would be interesting to have a room full of fantastic paintings and find out which paintings drew people towards them and for how long ……

24 Comments

  1. CliveW 17 March 2011 at 10:35 am

    ‘The Daily Mail have recently carried out a study: ModernArtDailyMail on people’s viewing habits of contemporary art in order to…’

    …confirm its market’s opinion of it and give them a nice righteous glow?

    ‘ }

    Standing by the art you believe in is a wider political statement of belonging.

    Reply
  2. anned 17 March 2011 at 10:49 am

    “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.”
    – Gelett Burgess
    Is this the quote you are referencing in the title?

    Reply
  3. Mike Crossley 17 March 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Art IS all things to all men (or women) We all, I think, know what we like With more knowledge of the artists intentions we may well like it a little more a calf in a glass case…Explain…

    Reply
  4. anned 17 March 2011 at 5:01 pm

    “Standing by the art you believe in is a wider political statement of belonging.”

    Or not belonging if you disagree with the general feeling of the community you happen to find yourself in…

    “With more knowledge of the artists intentions we may well like it a little more”

    We might not like it any more but at least we would be better informed. Art that we like/dislike is not the same as art that is good/bad. And I don’t agree that conceptual art “simply jogs a train of thought”, that’s not my experience.

    Reply
    1. CliveW 17 March 2011 at 5:24 pm

      ‘Or not belonging if you disagree with the general feeling of the community you happen to find yourself in…’

      Ah yes, that would be belonging to the not belonging group. ‘ }

      Reply
      1. anned 17 March 2011 at 7:37 pm

        I suppose someone’s got to do it otherwise the belonging group would have nothing to complain about.

        Reply
  5. Rob 17 March 2011 at 5:07 pm

    if you look at the recent forum post on the Format Festival (http://www.weareoca.com/photography/right-here-right-now-first-impressions/comment-page-1/#comment-7344), there’s a comment at the end about people gathered round a photo by Amani Willett. This will have been the longest I stood in front of an individual image and it was because I didn’t understand the message, not because I appreciated it.

    I’ve not seen the cow or Koons’ basketballs, but to be honest I’d possibly be more interested from a technical point of view than an artistic one.

    Using time as a measure of appreciation is an incredibly flawed concept.

    Reply
  6. warwickiwi 17 March 2011 at 5:26 pm

    If the measure of art is a profoundly subjective matter, then whether like a particular genre, movement or individual piece of art is no necessary criterion as to whether it is good or bad. Even if the most superior and condescending of critics – I think of Brian Sewell in particular – thinks a work is good or bad, given the fact that it is HIS personal judgement and therefore not an objective statement, I accept it as an opinion which, if backed by reasoned argument, I might take into account. Or not. As an earlier commenter noted, we leave more informed – if not persuaded. If I personally think that much modern art is slick, profit-orientated trickery, then a semi-cow will probably reinforce that belief. If I find the Pre-Raphaelites mushy and saccharine, then a new promotion of their works will do little to change my mind. But a rational cerebral argument might. Does this mean that the art needs further interpretation by outsiders to bring its message home? Is that an indictment of the work? If Cy Twombly cannot get his daubed, dripped message across without extraordinarily learned experts explaining it, what does it say about his ability to communicate with others? Of course, he may not care. Now, where have we got to….?

    Reply
  7. nick 17 March 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Apologies but I am going to have to throw a red rag into the ring here. The ‘equation’ from the Daily Mail is not necessarily wrong, it is an overly simplistic and partial truth; many more hundreds of factors would need to be taken into consideration, not just the amount of time looking at something! Sure, the Daily Mail will always pander to ignorance of a certain type, but blind acceptance / appreciation of abstract art is *also* a kind of ignorance. Philosophically, how can you know, possibly, as a viewer, that a piece of abstract art had real meaning in the mind of the artist when it was created/conceived, or whether it is just a random image? You can’t. Anyone can use artificial ‘random’ creativity to create a random image, and random analysis to come up with an explanation. Let me give you an example – this is a true story. A friend (I admit this was over ten years ago) went to visit the Tate. In one room, there appeared to be no visible art.. However they noticed that the white wall on one side of the room appeared to have a dim but complex stain on it, compared to the other walls, which were completely white. So they sat on the bench in the middle of the room, which was perfectly aligned to view the stain. After some head-scratching, it was decided that the stain looked vaguely in the shape of Africa, with large scratches of white plaster on. That was it! This was a subtle statement on the white world’s oppression of Africa. The dimness of the image reflected how the whole issue has been underplayed by the West.. the white scratches represented colonial wounds and the distorted shape represented the continent’s enduring pain.. The only trouble was at that moment, the curator walked in and shouted: “CAN YOU *NOT* SIT ON THE EXHIBITS, PLEASE!” The fact is that you can dress up *any* random image with meaning, so any ‘work’ that is all concept and zero technique could always be a total fraud. But – once these things gain a momentum, there’s no stopping them. “It’s in the Tate – therefore, it must be the epitomy of human art!!” It’s the same for any other human endeavour. Bernard Madoff, now in jail for fraud, conned people for decades with his Ponzi scheme, but because enough stupid-but-very-senior people believed him, everyone else believed him as well, because it’s easier to follow rather than be a free-thinker. Abstract art *can* be valid, or it *can* be a perfect modern-day example of “The Emporer’s New clothes.” We have *no* way of knowing whether Mr. Hurst had a true artistic statement in mind any other than we can know for sure if the work was a fraud. In summary, I believe that this kind of abstract ‘art’ does have it’s place if it makes the viewer think and ponder possibilities. But does it really merit the huge value that experts put on it? No. As Pablo himself said: “Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth.”

    Reply
    1. Russ 18 March 2011 at 9:45 pm

      “Philosophically, how can you know, possibly, as a viewer, that a piece of abstract art had real meaning in the mind of the artist when it was created/conceived, or whether it is just a random image? You can’t”

      -Except of course, you can: You simply take into account more of their work, not just a single image. Like all areas of life there are of course headline-grabbing profiteers like Hurst who takes a single idea and repeats it for profit. Good artists however, will repeatably create good, thought-provoking work.

      Reply
  8. Peter Haveland 17 March 2011 at 6:04 pm

    “how can you know, possibly, as a viewer, that a piece of abstract art had real meaning in the mind of the artist when it was created/conceived” who cares? The important thing is does it have real meaning in the eyes of the viewer at any particular moment. Once an artist puts their work out in the world it is we the viewers who put meaning into it (see Barthes and Foucault on the existence of the author) What the maker thought is of interest and importance to academics and to students but much less so to the audience.

    Reply
  9. anned 17 March 2011 at 7:25 pm

    “but blind acceptance / appreciation of abstract art is *also* a kind of ignorance”

    It would be if it were the case, but usually it seems to me that the person disliking the artwork makes an assumption that anyone who does appreciate it is misguided, stupid or foolish. You can’t possibly know that, each person will see things differently based on a complex mixture of their personality, life experience and education. And more than that, each person will change how they see things as they go through life.
    That’s the point of education.

    Reply
  10. nick 17 March 2011 at 9:55 pm

    1) “it is we the viewers who put meaning into it”
    A: This logic is perfect, *if* the work was genuinely intended as worthy of having meaning, otherwise you are finding meaning where there is none.

    2) “It would be if it were the case, but usually it seems to me that the person disliking the artwork makes an assumption that anyone who does appreciate it is misguided, stupid or foolish.”
    A: This is a loaded statement; I would rewrite this as “the person rejecting the subject out-of-hand as a random piece of non-art makes an assumption that anyone who does appreciate it is misguided, stupid or foolish.” On the other hand, the person rejecting the subject out-of-hand can have no idea if their own viewpoint is indeed correct; the ‘foolish’ person might actually be interpreting it correctly or in a way consistent with what the artist genuinely originally intended.

    This is what I am saying – my problem with abstract art – and I do have a problem with it – is that it is *ambiguous* to the point where you cannot prove or disprove it; it is impossible to say whether it is art or non-art. But my point is that this philosophical reality-check is sadly lost on the type of person who rave about this stuff.

    A reading and a semantic analysis of the children’s fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes” should be mandatory study for first year art undergraduates!

    Reply
    1. CliveW 17 March 2011 at 10:28 pm

      But what if the child in their naivety has got it wrong and the Emperor does indeed have new clothes, or doesn’t have any clothes while also having new clothes.

      Ambiguity is a state of art, and also a state of science, which contradicts our common sense but models more accurately the phenomena that we observe; as our tools of interrogation become more sophisticated.

      The fault lies with our misdirecting common sense.

      The art or the artist don’t have to prove anything, to the irritation of the supreme rationalist. However you choose to label the work, art/not art, or accept its duality, it acts in the world, whether you gainsay it or not. The mechanism of that action relies on the presence of a ‘reader’ who brings their experience to decode it. They transform it from an object into an image that stands as a metaphor for what they experience in reading it.

      For those that can’t read it, no blame, they can move on and find something they can read.

      Reply
    2. anned 18 March 2011 at 8:25 am

      I agree with CliveW as far as “viewers” go. However the problem is that they don’t move on and find something they can read, instead they berate the artist and anyone who expresses an interest in the art. Presumably this is so that they can feel good about themselves in some way I really can’t understand.

      But as Peter remarked earlier the artist’s intention is of interest to students and academics, we are doing degrees in art. How can you study art if you never look at anything you don’t understand? That just doesn’t make sense, you have to look at things you don’t understand and educate yourself to understand them. We’re not talking about the Emporer’s new clothes, we’re talking about the Emporers Old Clothes that he’s been wearing for decades and have been subject to intense scrutiny by experts. Liking or disliking is not the issue, seeing things from other INFORMED people’s perspectives is what’s important and then DISCUSSING the actual art in the light of that.

      “A reading and a semantic analysis of the children’s fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes” should be mandatory study for first year art undergraduates”

      Where I did my first year as an art undergraduate, several things were compulsary, one was that I had already done a foundation year in art, another was a substantial element of visual studies, art history and theory, which included art from all periods. Then there was contextual studies as an ongoing part of my practical work. The result of that was that we were educated about art that we didn’t previously understand, our horizons were stretched and our opinions challenged – we learnt to be respectful of all informed viewpoints on art and also to be INTOLERANT of uninformed and misguided assumptions and opinions.

      I have no problem with justifying my opinion about art, the problem I have is that there is little interest in the actual artworks, instead people declare their dislike as a badge of honour as though it was something to be proud of, instead of for what it often is – a total lack of understanding. Anyone who expresses any interest in finding out more about the art itself is insulted or ignored. There is no hope of hearing what informed others think about the artworks themselves as they are too busy having to defend others rights to hold differing opinions as “viewers”, which then is used to validate the uninformed viewer.

      Over the last few years my own views have become steadily hardened by this and I really don’t like that feeling at all.

      Reply
  11. nick 18 March 2011 at 11:42 am

    “But what if the child in their naivety has got it wrong and the Emperor does indeed have new clothes, or doesn’t have any clothes while also having new clothes.”

    A: Never did I imagine in my wildest dreams that I would hear this as a counterargument, one which boils down to saying that the Emperor is indeed wearing invisible clothes, and the onlookers are ignorant fools for thinking that he’s not wearing any! I salute you for suggesting this. So let’s try another angle, let’s go for statistical likeliness. According to quantum mechanics, it’s entirely possible that Damien Hirst could appear from nowhere, slap me in the face for disliking his work and then disappear. Do I go around fearing this to happen because the argument, no matter how astronomically unlikely, is scientifically possible? Of course not. So again, what would be the *likelihood* back in Hans Christian Anderson’s day, that the Emperor was wearing invisible clothes? Sorry, this argument is absurd. Remember that a subtle but vital point of the story is that it is a *child* that first says “But he’s not wearing any clothes,” whereupon the rest of the adult onlookers, unsure themselves up to this point and basically displaying a follow-the-herd mentality, finally see the absurdity of the claim. “Out of the mouths of babes” is the modern expression.

    ” we learnt to be respectful of all informed viewpoints on art and also to be INTOLERANT of uninformed and misguided assumptions and opinions.”

    A: The logic of this rests on the assumption that the viewpoints that you consider informed are actually in reality informed, and that the assumptions that you consider uninformed are truly uninformed. That’s a long-winded way of saying “how do you know you are right?”

    Don’t get me totally wrong; taking the opposite view, what is the chance, mathematically, that all simplistic abstract art is a fraud? I would say very, very, low. So that is not the point. However – what is the mathematical chance that a lot of simplistic abstract art doesn’t actually require very much talent to throw it together and that any image, however random, is capable of being interpreted as having meaning? I would say very much higher. The point you are missing is that *any* random image can “challenge our preconceptions” and “set off a train of thoughts and concepts” or any other vague arty justification that’s flavour of the moment. That’s the point. You cannot *know* it has meaning.

    The problem with people who are staunch defenders of modern simplistic abstract art is that it is they *themselves* who do not have an open mind; to them, people who dismiss this kind of work are “ignorant peasants” unworthy of having an opinion. Unlike themselves, privileged in being educated in art history, the naysayers are labeled “ignorant” and “have closed minds” but unfortunately for them the same logic applies the other way around. Their haughty viewpoints are based on zealotry – almost religious in stance – and are not based on emotion or logic. They think that all people who berate this ‘art’ are uninformed or ignorant, and I’m sorry but the truth really is the other way around. There are a lot of people who hate fundamentalist religions; but fundamentalist religious types think 100% that everyone else is “uninformed” and “ignorant” simply because they themselves have in effect brainwashed themselves into believing somebody else’s dogma. And in fact that is the core of this problem – dogma. Rememeber that dogma is a belief system that has been *given to you,* not something that you have come to believe as a freethinker. The vast majority of what I read justifying simplistic modern art is basically dogmatic. There is a little belief in them saying:

    “All the art-world intellectuals that I read about and studied on my course all loved modern art and thought people who didn’t like it were ignorant peasants, therefore they must be right, therefore I will believe in this myself without ever questioning it.” Unfortunately it’s basic human psychology – when a ‘tipping point’ or ‘critical mass’ is reached in the numbers of people justifying something absurd as ‘the right way,’ most others simply follow suit; it’s the herd mentality. Religion, communism, Ponzi schemes, pre-freudian psychology, Emperors with no clothes, the unquestioning adoration of abstract art – they all share the same fundamental flaw – they assume correctness because their peers and their acquaintances have also concluded correctness. Why risk being a social outcast by daring to suggest that your peers are wrong?

    I could put a giant cigar in the Tate, label it as being by “Damien Hirst” and no doubt all sorts of people would drool adoringly and analyze it in depth and find huge meaning and inspiration. But as Freud said – “sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.”

    Reply
  12. anned 18 March 2011 at 12:17 pm

    I don’t know I’m right I try and learn so that I am informed. Since my opinion is that I want to learn, I can’t be wrong. My opinion is not that Damien Hirst is brilliant, my opinion is that we should learn about art rather than saying we like or dislike something without giving a reason or investigating further.

    The thing I fail to understand is why wanting to learn about art is a crime.

    I really can’t be bothered to say any more Nick. So far anyone who says anything that disagrees with you is illogical including 2 completely different tutors. (Clive and Peter) The chances of you listening to what anyone says from their own real life experience (rather than what they have been told) seems to be less than zero.

    Reply
  13. Eileen 18 March 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Nick,

    I’m in danger of compounding the debate by seeking to interpret Clive, but I didn’t think that he was suggesting that in the fable the emperor might be wearing invisible clothes. I had thought he was saying that one might consider whather nakedness in itself might in some senses be a form of clothing (at least in so far as the clothes we wear with other bodily adornments are not just actual practical garments but also a means of signalling who we are and how we want others to see us).

    Reply
  14. CliveW 18 March 2011 at 1:40 pm

    In a way that’s right Eileen. I was suggesting that he could be wearing clothes and also not wearing clothes at the same time. What one person perceives as art another may not, with as I said, ‘no blame’.

    I don’t fear fakery. If something is presented to me as art but has no resonance for me I don’t consider it an affront to who I think I am. I move on and leave it to those who are enjoying it.

    Reply
  15. Rob 18 March 2011 at 2:38 pm

    “The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.” (Berger – Ways of seeing. P54)

    Was the emperor nude or naked?

    I’m not saying anything more…

    Reply
  16. Stan Dickinson 18 March 2011 at 3:00 pm

    The Emperor wearing his new clothes. “‘nough said!”

    Reply
  17. Stan Dickinson 18 March 2011 at 3:01 pm

    ‘… was wearing …’ (Sorry.)

    Reply
  18. Sarah Pease 18 March 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Every time I hear the comment about “emperor’s new clothes” I think about the time I took my 3 children to New York (10,12,14) and dragged them reluctantly round big museums and commercial galleries. I had wondered what their reaction to all the different styles of art would be but they had no problem accepting it all as “Art”. Some they liked, some they didn’t. It doesn’t seem to be a debate that the younger generation feels any need to have.

    Reply
  19. nick 21 March 2011 at 3:11 pm

    OK, fair enough, time to take stock.. this kind of debate is always in danger of being polarized, and what I want to say on this subject always ends up getting attacked for the wrong reasons. Believe it or not, I am trying to support what I think is a fairly moderate position here! Let me boil this down into one statement, that I will stand by :

    “Any totally random image can be interpreted creatively as having artistic meaning.”

    However, logically, if everything has artistic meaning, that is an attack on art itself, because nothing is any longer significant. Take time management; one of the first things you are taught on these courses is the counterargument to the complaint: “It’s hopeless – I can’t organize my time – *everything* is urgent!” – the logical reasoning and conclusion being: “Don’t worry, there’s no need to panic then, because once everything is urgent, the concept of urgency no longer has any meaning or value.”

    I honestly believe that the fostering and encouragement of absurdly-open-minded in-depth-highbrow-I’m-educating-myself-don’t-you-know artistic analysis and attempted ‘interpretation’ of absurdly simplistic installations is an attack on art itself, for the reasons given above, and this opinion is one of course that is shared by large groups of professional artists, one of the more famous ones being the Stuckists. (And not just, as some ‘art’ types like to claim, solely attributable to Daily-Mail readers and Tory voters – which is an insult to me as a non-Tory voter and non-Daily-Mail reader!) Note that I say “absurdly simplistic installations” – I didn’t say “modern” art, I didn’t say “contemporary” art, I didn’t say “abstract” art as standalone words – what I am talking about is abstract installations that require zero talent, zero imagination, and in a lot of cases, have in fact been assembled under the direction of the ‘artist’ by other third-parties, as opposed to being created by their own fair hands – much like some of the ‘works’ by the ‘creator’ of the poor animal pictured at the top of the blog!

    Sorry, but pickled cows are anti-art, and I believe it is this kind of extremity, unfortunately, that leads publications like the Daily Mail to come up with their laughably simplistic ‘formulae’ for arriving at the value of a particular piece of art.

    Reply

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