ARTICLE: In The Art World, “Shut Up,” They Explained


Some “Art” by Carl Andre

Why “I Could Have Done That” Hurts Contemporary Art

A silly little article that participates in a growing trend among the elitists: Shut Up Culture. The establishment must be getting worried, and feeling their grip on the reins slipping. So the new attitude is no longer is anyone allowed to question or dissent from appreciating the shoddy house of cards they’ve designed for us all. The priggish repression of Political Correctness is having to expand into whole new territories to try and maintain their monopoly on thought and its expression.

See some contemporary art that does not show any particular skill or insight? Don’t you dare criticize it for that, the author here states. The problem is not that the art is feeble, but that you peons have a bad attitude.

The article also touches on the idea I feel as more to do with rotting out the achievements of contemporary visual art than anything else: the concept that art is some kind of puzzle, that its supposed to make you ponder and question what the nature of art is. You go down that rabbit hole, and you have left the experience of art-you’re now partaking in some particularly useless circular thinking, far removed from the vital experience of life.

Anyone one can question, it’s dull and easy and impersonal. What is more important is conclusions. Make an art that shows me where your inner questions have led you, and then we’ll be getting somewhere.

The article concludes: “The next time you find yourself in the Tate or wherever it may be, if someone utters the words ‘I could have done that’, simply reply: ‘then why didn’t you?'”

I have an answer: Because it was not worthwhile. And I will not shut up about the failure on display.


19 thoughts on “ARTICLE: In The Art World, “Shut Up,” They Explained

  1. Refreshing, with a great implied message: When someone asks you the artist why you did what you did, be prepared to answer straightforwardly and honestly. If it was good enough for James Joyce, who was ready and able to explain every single passage of FINNEGANS WAKE, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

  2. You hit on something I’ve also been thinking and writing about lately, which is that a lot of conceptual art is not art about concepts, but rather props to illustrate concepts about art. And how interesting really is art about art, especially if its own significance rests on its success in showing the art it is addressing is irrelevant? A comment on irrelevant art is ultimately itself frivolous, in which case such art that is critical of art (i.e., Duchamp’s “The Fountain”) is dead on arrival. How often do we say, “I could have done that” when we look at a film, read a novel, or listen to music? And if one has been through the gauntlet of “fine art” education, as I have, often one CAN say, “I did do that twenty years ago in art college, but rather thought it was a bit trite.”

  3. True, I enjoy talking about the process as well. The problem is if there is nothing to the art and the artist has to explain everything about it, trying to say what isn’t shown.

  4. Art about art only survives in the cloistered environment of academia and is propped up by their media and government enablers. Take that stuff out of the ivory tower environment and it withers into insignificance.

  5. I like it all, even your point of view, though my differs, that is what makes me interested in waking up and engaging in the world. What happens when we apply the same thinking to people, just got me thinking. Then again, good writing, good art, does. Cheers.

  6. There is a building wave. The arts are about to go undergo a reformation hitherto unexpected by most of those who’ve made a profession of it, because its going to involve a significant influx from those outside the conventional expectations of the current networks. There will be more art, more opportunities, more excitement and it will be magnificent. Love the barbarians at the gate because ready or not, here we come. Keep up the good work and blogging!

  7. Wonderful article Richard. Having done my time in art school and the miserable environment of the Atlanta art community, I have long held the same conclusions.
    I have also been beating the drums, as you have, long enough to agree that change is coming. The ‘common people’ who have for so long been scorned by the ‘creative elite’ are taking an active interest in the culture. I am proud to stand next to you as one of the barbarians at the gate.

  8. You are doing amazing work, keep it up! It won’t take much of a shift of awareness among those not currently engaged in the existing corrupt system to blow the whole scene wide open.

  9. Hi Richard, I worked for a while as a gallery attendant at the Tate. On either side of the exit (where I stood) from an exhibition of Gainsborough’s work were 2 very similar sculptures by the same (unknown) sculptor.

    The single spotlight was pointed at one of the sculptures. I watched as art lover after art lover stopped and deeply pondered the lit sculpture – the poses they took were great!

    Time for an experiment – point the light at the other sculpture. You know the rest.

    My point – if you want artistic success, get a spotlight (the same as they use for food-trays in take-aways.

    Regards, Phil

  10. Interesting experiment. The big problem these days is where our cultural institutions have chosen to aim the spotlight of their support and promotion-nihilistic and vapid art that only appeals to their circle of cronies. Since they have handled their responsibilities so poorly, they need to have their spotlights taken away from them.

  11. Hi Richard,
    I like your article. I did my time at art school too (as you’ve probably read in my recent post) and wrote something along these lines recently re art writing snobbery.
    When I was at art school I was pretty much disgusted with the whole conceptual contemporary art genre, let alone the truly bad stuff. But I was wrong of course, buried in there was some truly great work that I was dismissing out of hand. I dismissed it largely I believe, becuase that was the direction that my lecturers were trying to steer my work, and I’m very glad I did.
    I agree that people see work all the time that they could have made – thus “I could have done that”. But I have also stood behind my own (photographic) work at exhibition and heard them say it, about work that I’m absolutely certain they could not have made. So for me the problem is that when they say “I could have done that”, what they really mean is, “Having seen this, I could replicate it.”
    I don’t wish to deny anyone’s right to say it, but generally, when I’ve heard it said, the person saying it was outright wrong.

  12. As an artist, if I do my job right, my works will channel such a definitive presence that no casual viewer could ever say “I could have done that.” I don’t mean that as a criticism, because I can’t say I’m at that point, but that’s where I’m aiming.
    Part of the problem with the whole conceptual art thing is how much it erases the distinctive character of the artist who creates it in favor of prepackaged commercial and/or anonymous dada poses. The whole postmodern thing is so generic and dull and most importantly: dated. Time to get lively again. I’ll look forward to seeing more on your blog!

  13. I have given up on art that invites me to pretend it is the Times crossword puzzle, which has at least got a published set of answers. Then there is the other side of the coin – conceptual art so blatant in it’s meaning that it is nothing more than agitprop. Note to self; I must read more Roger Scruton.

  14. PS just saw the quote at the heading by Trilling.. Not read his work. I will do so. The Liberal Imagination sounds very interesting. Might I also suggest “the Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of false Hope” by Scruton. I suspect they might cover similar ground….

    BTW this is a refreshing blog.

  15. Thanks! We all have to do our part if anything is be salvaged from the mess the elitists have created. Trilling is an old school Ivy League big shot, but he had a moment of clarity there at least.

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