ART: OLD BAD, NEW GOOD




Semantics: when I say art, I also mean poetry, music, etc.


There must be a word for the reflexive tendency to reject the old in favor of the new. In the sixties it was uncool to like either Andrew Wyeth or Norman Rockwell. They were (gasp) "illustrators," and everyone was still in the thrall of late modernism. Now these two are being slowly, laterally, reinstated. I see the same in the rejection of men's art by feminist critics. A friend does not like Calder because his vision is male. I have been looking at Calder and trying to imagine how a woman could not have done what Calder did equally well, or how Calder is somehow irremediably male and thus worthy of mothballs. All these judgments are generalizations, and often crude ones. Is this another form of binary thinking in a time when binaries are uncool? I’m being ironic, I can’t help myself. If everything is ironic then nothing is? Simulacra anyone?


Norman Rockwell is now considered to have been a deeply closeted gay man, and thus has drawn new interest; but the dark, conservative edge of that assumption insists he was a pedophile because of his paintings of children. The Rockwell estate claims neither of these assumptions are true, and I myself don't see how his paintings prove either. The lack of crude masculinity in Rockwell’s paintings does not mean he was gay, nor does the imaging of freckle-faced kids prove he was a pedophile. Mostly ignored in this squabble is his visionary anti-racist works, such as the painting Moving In.


Neither was Wyeth a mere illustrator (read, "superficial), but a man who could find mystery in a plain sunlit field.


Avant Garde art, which ranges, like all art, from the good to the awful, exists because of the notion that the real artists are always doing deep reconnaissance into a future that no one else can see. Ironically, much avant garde art dates quickly because it can be easily located within a school or time in the history of art. Much of it reappears later as gimmick. And McLuhan’s statement that “artists are the antennae of the future” does not describe only avant garde art, but the astonishing reimagining of classics to reveal what they predicted about their own times: Dostoevsky, C. Bronte, Melville, Shakespeare, all great innovators. The Russian critic Bakhtin’s observed, in his theory of chronotopes, that all literature has an implicit future, present and past identifiable in its language.


NOTE: I hear in film-maker circles that "steady state" has replaced "avant garde," because change is continuous. I see this in the fearlessly energetic work of Laurie Anderson, who won't sit still to be categorized.


Picasso claimed that if you are really doing art, the work reaches backwards and forwards in time and connects all periods. There is something called art that is unchanged by periodicity.



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