For the Last Time, the Recession is Not Good for Art

The argument I keep hearing goes something like this, “Now that all the idiots aren’t blowing hedge fund (or ponzi scheme) money on idiot art, all us here good artists can ascend to our rightful place.  People will now see the bargains on quality and everything will be OK.”

First, there’s the whole “quality” debate.  Quotation marks, I know… May I refer you to Dave Hickey in the February Art in America.  Honestly, if I didn’t fear the wrath of the Scathing Online Schoolmarm (were I to merit such attention) I’d have put both “good” and “art” in quotes.  Because, well, you know.

After that there’s tangible, social reality.

Alexandra Peers came down on my side in the NY Times Or, I came down on hers — whichever it were.

She offers a more level, fact-based argument.

I’d like to add a different two cents.

First, I happen to have first hand knowledge that bad art exists at all price ranges, as does good art.  I sort of chafe at the implication that quality is somehow being suppressed by hipsters and wealthy art fashionistas.  There’s a bit of Van Gogh-ism in it — a romantic mythology of geniuses enduring obscure squalor.  A direct to DVD Disney movie.

Next, let me ask, what makes you think that all the people guffawing over themselves for having dropped a now-aging YBA‘s name over a $30 coctail will be interested in your “real” art, anyway?

Those who have unloaded  unheard of assloads of cash on Takashi Murakami sculptures (go ahead, click it) or on Damien Hirst’s best efforts to transubstantiate pure marketing into concrete form are not really looking for the capital “A” art of such rumored low-priced quality.  Different people want a lot of different things from the vast diaspora of what we used to call art, that we still call art.  I find it difficult to believe that the high-rollers have all been duped.  Their relationship with a thing we spell “a-r-t” is something different, something more Wall St., more K Street, an exchange of ambition; an air of the old, old world of the Collector.  The objects they buy and sell do indeed carry meaning, just like art does.  I’m inclined to believe they’ve been getting exactly what they wanted from their objects, and I’m not of a disposition to try to deny them any of it.

The art world, or any subsection of it, is very much a dialogue about what we value.  And, the values run deeper than the objects that convey them.  To think that someone fawning over Shephard Fairey will suddenly drop cash for a deep, extended, meaningful engagement with a two-dimensional surface is sort of silly, isn’t it?  It’s like saying, “You like toast.  Man, have I got some tacos you’ll just die for.”

Barring the possibility that newly unemployed art collecting elite bide their time with art appreciation classes, the best I can imagine is that if the fast-flying spectacles of the art world do indeed ride out on a wave of unfundedness, no more ironically post-ironic boobies to condescend over, at least a bunch of us will be less irritated when we finally get invited to a vernissage.

Meanwhile, my government-supported job to create opportunities for visual artists and (eventually) open an art center will plod right along in defiance of any market drop that comes our way.


Lucian Freud is a Funny Guy


Lucian Freud, the world’s most expensive living artist, has joined the ranks of a select group of artists: those who have designed labels for Château Mouton Rothschild wine.

…previous artists include Miro, Chagall, Braque, Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Bacon, Haring, and Balthus.

The artists receive no payment for their contribution other than cases of the Bordeaux-region wine.


Shephard Fairey is the Vanilla Ice of Guerilla Art

The realization came to me during my commute home last night when “Under Pressure” came on the radio.

Mr. Fairey is even in the midst of his own sampling/plagiarism law suit.

Vanilla Ice, as you remember, continued a long tradition of awkwardly forcing white faces onto music that would continue to for some time be performed better by black people.

Think there’s a consumer niche that wants to buy MC Hammer records but has otherwise refused to move forward from Reconstruction?  Man, have I got a guy for you.  And you should see his hair!

Anyway, when “Under Pressure” comes on, I still sing “Ice Ice Baby” until David Bowie takes over.

I even tried to learn that side-to-side step with my pants rolled tight, when I was 13.

And thus it all hit me.

I had read this earlier in the day yesterday: How phony is Shepard Fairey? (found on Arts Journal).

You know, we all love Banksy and our leftist warriors for the public visual space.  May I refer you to the always delightful Pixelator.  And, of course Knitta Please.

But after Jean-Michel Basquiat gave us all that trouble back in the eighties…

Ugh, new money.

I think they’ve got their guy now though

A Designer and an Artist!  How 2008!

“When I copy, it’s a reference.  If you don’t get it, it’s cuz yer not as smart as yer supposed to be.”  “Duh.”

I think I’ve already mentioned that Mr. Fairey’s art is, at it’s root, a more professional execution of an assignment I’ve given Intro to Computer Art students as a first assignment using Adobe Illustrator.  Moreover, I inherited the assignment from Debra Davis, who was my supervisor at the University of Toledo.

So, at that, I would like us all to remember all of the things that people want from their art world that are not Art.  Truth is, they already have them and you’re just mean if you want to take away the things that make them happy.  We can all take a deep breath, smile and, relax.  Some dude has figured out how to update Patrick Nagel to become more popular than the rest of us, so good for him.  If you became an artist because you thought it would lead you to fame and fortune, you’re probably not smarter than anyone you feel like criticizing.

Where’s my Mask and Cape?

The greatest thing about running a pseudononymous blog is that when you run into studpidity, you can release a little of your burden by writing about it.

My dumb Me Teech Art butt, on the other hand, has a link right above the blue bar with the Twinkie that answers the question “Who is this guy anyway?”

I used to want to grow up to be just like Sonic Youth.  Not a particular member of Sonic Youth, just an embodiment of a certain approach toward life and art.  Most of us can only imagine what it must feel like to cram drumsticks into your guitar and make noise that actually makes sense…  I’ve been, keenly (I’ll say),  remembering over the past couple of days that a person can not accomplish such a thing, can not really achieve success as an artist, if he/she spends very much time listening to people.  People are sticky.  People play out Intro to Behavioral Psychology scenarios.

Paying the rent, however, more than anything has to do with developing skills for listening to people, then continuing to listen to those people.

So, here’s a lesson from Intro to Critiquing Art, a thing I find need to explain to Studio Art Foundations students:  When a person says something concrete, specific, about making changes to an art work, i.e. “it could use more blue”, “it needs a greater tonal range”, “you really need to incorporate a broader range of sources”, etc., what they are really doing is offering a solution to something that confuses them, an indecisive or undecided middle ground.  In those cases, the exact opposite of their suggestion will almost always work just as well.  I.e., “use less blue”, “limit the tonal range more extremely”, “focus your range of sources”…  The choice is yours and has to do with intention.  The important thing is to understand that the middle ground is bad.  Spare us the pop-Buddhism.  Please have conviction.  Realize that you have confused your audience.  However, their solution only belongs to them.

I had the rare fortune of spending my formative years around a lot of people who weren’t worth listening to.  I learned how to not listen.  I did well in art school.  The most dangerous thing is people who may possibly be moving in good directions.  But, then, maybe it would have been better to have grown up next door to Cornel West.

(BTW, you can thank George Liebert (also here) for the insight into art criticism.  He revealed said insight to me, probably more articulately, when I was his student in a Foundations class, way back when.  He was/is a person worth listening to.)

You may not be aware of this but…

All that stuff we teach college students how to do…

There’s a whole world out there where people actually go do those things.

Yeah, I never imagined it either.

It’s totally cool out there though.  Monday, I started a job out there and there’s people out there and none of them have two heads and I met a bunch of them and they actually seem to like it out there and…

On my very second day I got to touch real live art that wasn’t even made by students.


This is kind of how I feel:

You see, in one interpretation, the cheetah represents community college students and the gazelle is art — I get to be the guy. Or, maybe the guy is real live art made by real live artists and I’m the gazelle — art majors who hate making art are the cheetah.  Then again, it could be that the cheetah is a  metaphor for the economic panic/collapse seen through the lens of someone with an MFA, and…  Well, you know, art coefficient, etc.

That and I’m waking up at 6:00 every morning.

I always imagined I might enjoy being a morning person, if I were one.  But I’m not.  If freshly risen sun were that damn good, we’d do it later in the day.  It doesn’t matter how much coffee you drink, sitting still in your car on The Beltway, trying to get a glimpse of what’s happening in between your sun visor and the dashboard without blinding yourself in some damn hippie “sun-rise”, you’re absolutely sure you’d rather just wake up later.

Advice for Young Artists from a Young Artist

This morning, while searching for something to patch up a newly opened hole in my memory, I came across something I wrote eight, almost nine years ago.

“Some Words for Artists — What Phil Said” In the archives of

I hadn’t forgotten that I wrote it.  But, I didn’t know it was still out there.

It may be the earliest writing of mine that still exists.

It is a younger, pre grad school me (the editorial intro was updated later) giving advice for freshly emerging artists.  I had curated a few shows by then, exhibited pretty actively between undergrad and grad school, and must have seemed promising, I guess.

Reading my own, old writing gives me exactly the same discomfort as hearing my recordings of my own voice.   (I’ve just barely gotten past the uneasiness of using microphones, even though I like public speaking.)  Rereading this essay wasn’t so bad though.

Interestingly enough, it shows proto-forms of some of the same messed up grammer I cherish so much today.  Plus, there’s only ONE  word written in an improper form — a kind of mental typo I seem to be quite good at.

An Allegorical History of Higher Education

The Washington Post has a great little article up about the history of all the problems in American post-secondary education, called Dropping the Ball.


No. Wait.

It’s actually about the Inaugural Ball(s).

But, it’s sort of funny if you read it as an allegorical tale about working in higher education.  At least, when I read it, I couldn’t help but draw the comparison.

Allow me to quote:

A sample PIC [Presidential Inauguration Committee] agenda from 1881: “Appointment of Persons to Have Charge of the Hat Boxes.”

Followed by:

At one 19th-century meeting, members proposed such ideas as charging female guests double because of their large dresses.

At another, the chair of the civic organizations committee received special thanks for dealing with the “women suffragists” who “have greatly added to the troubles of the inaugural committee.

It occurred to me that government isn’t really an institution or a collection of offices.  It is a methodology.

Higher ed is essentially the same, save the collection of loopy humanities professors (ahem, who “teech”es art?).

Anyway.  As fun as it is to laugh at the troubles you’ve left behind, let me remind myself here that I did, indeed, just leave higher ed to work for a government agency.