Friday, March 6, 2009

Huh? Wow!

This week's final post on the twin topics of collecting and taste.

Peter Schjeldahl is an art critic and educator whose writing is grounded in scholarship, yet is accessible and a sheer delight to read.

A couple of weeks ago, New Yorker magazine online published a series of questions about art posed by members of the general public, with Schjeldahl's answers. Here is one of my favourite exchanges:

Q: Modern and postmodern art is often a subject of ridicule. How can the amateur make inroads into the somewhat opaque traditions of twentieth-century art?
Logan Longbourne
Auckland, New Zealand

A: Start anywhere. Look. Wonder why any given art is the way it is and not some other way. The artist made certain choices, producing certain effects. Walk back the cat, as they say in espionage. Perhaps read art historians and critics for clues—but not solutions. Your own pleasure must be your goal and guide. A great deal of art, of any period, is ridiculous. But you won’t be a fair judge unless you consent to regard each work as sincere and intelligent until proven otherwise. (Developing taste speeds up the process, but it’s still a process.) If you hate a work on first sight, fine. That’s an authentic response. But stick around. Keep looking. You will have further responses. You might end up hating the work even more, but with an enriched understanding of both it and yourself. Very often, our judgment evolves the other way: what we think we like, at first, disappoints upon contemplation. The artist Edward Ruscha promulgated a handy rule in this regard: “Bad art is ‘Wow! Huh?’ Good art is ‘Huh? Wow!'

(photo credit: Alex Remnick, courtesy Thames and Hudson, via)

Next week, the topic will be "Obsolescence". (click to see a previous, related posting)

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