Archive for February, 2019

Good Job Today!

Posted: February 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

Here are some thoughts I shared with one class member after today’s session. I hope these remarks will be helpful to that person and everyone else. I will admit that this assignment is indeed challenging. But I hope to offer you all a positive challenge, one ultimately leading to discovery and a new sense of self-confidence. Please feel free to consult with me as we continue working together toward that goal.

Good to see you today. I sensed you were a bit frustrated and worried during our conversation. Let me reassure you that your group in now in a good place. Here’s a simple statement of your thesis, one I think will make sense to you.

Art provides technological development with a necessary check or control, reminding us that innovation is not an intrinsic good or end until itself, but that it should always respond to human nature and genuine human needs.

Your claims would then outline either three different reasons this might be necessary, or three different ways art could perform this necessary function. That should be a very manageable task if shared equally amongst your group members.

Further, this thesis quickly brings to mind a sensible counter-argument. Recall that Greenberg argues that the whole point of the avant-garde is not necessarily to produce anything of permanent value so much as it is simply to ‘keep culture moving’. He seems to suggest that if we just avoid stagnation everything will work out in the end. You’d want to respond to this objection by arguing that innovation, left to its own devices, may well lead to an even bigger mess. Instead, innovation, as stated in your thesis, ought always to use art as way of checking in with what universal and unchanging humans needs technology actually meets. In a way, you’d really just be making an important distinction between mere uncontrolled ‘growth’ and genuinely ‘development’.

I hope these remarks will be sensible and helpful to you. Please feel free to consult with me if you need further clarification or direction.

Best to you,

Brian K.

An argument for the centrality of the visual culture of waste—as seen in works by international contemporary artists—to the study of our ecological condition.

Ecological crisis has driven contemporary artists to engage with waste in its most non-biodegradable forms: plastics, e-waste, toxic waste, garbage hermetically sealed in landfills. In this provocative and original book, Amanda Boetzkes links the increasing visualization of waste in contemporary art to the rise of the global oil economy and the emergence of ecological thinking. Often, when art is analyzed in relation to the political, scientific, or ecological climate, it is considered merely illustrative. Boetzkes argues that art is constitutive of an ecological consciousness, not simply an extension of it. The visual culture of waste is central to the study of the ecological condition.

Boetzkes examines a series of works by an international roster of celebrated artists, including Thomas Hirschhorn, Francis Alÿs, Song Dong, Tara Donovan, Agnès Varda, Gabriel Orozco, and Mel Chin, among others, mapping waste art from its modernist origins to the development of a new waste imaginary generated by contemporary artists. Boetzkes argues that these artists do not offer a predictable or facile critique of consumer culture. Bearing this in mind, she explores the ambivalent relationship between waste (both aestheticized and reviled) and a global economic regime that curbs energy expenditure while promoting profitable forms of resource consumption.

Antony Gormley
Waste Man

Antony Gormley is a British artist known for his exploration of the human body’s relationship to space. His popular public sculptures and installations include the monumental Another Place (1997) in Liverpool, Angel of the North (1998) in Gateshead, and Event Horizon (2007) in London. “I’ve never been interested in making statues,” the artist has said.

Jasper Johns

Anthropocene: the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Also, you might consider signing up for the Praxis Lab shown below, which is currently accepting applications.

Sorry! – ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Dear Students,

I apologize for not offering better instruction today. It was my intention to slow things down, discuss matters of pressing practical concern to you, and proceed in a way which was agreeable and helpful to all. Unfortunately, that was not the result I achieved. Without getting into a discussion of Phillip Bimstein’s current course on Radical Quiet, and his exploration yesterday of the phenomenon of shame, let me simply say that I hope to get us all on track again very soon. Please be patient with me in the mean time.

Let’s go ahead with our resolution to work in small groups on Thursday. Groups can deliberate together while I am there in the room to offer consultation. Over the weekend I will make an exception to my usual practice and generate some succinct and intelligible notes on Fried’s intriguing and important essay. These I will present next Tuesday.

Until then, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns which you might have, no matter the subject. I will do my best to remains available to you. Best wishes!


p.s. Until our next meeting, perhaps some of you will benefit from reflecting on this very controversial and influential piece of music by John Cage, whom Michael Fried directly mentions in “Art & Objecthood”.

The White Rectangle

Posted: February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Ideally, it is possible to elude the interpreters in another way, by making works of art whose surface is so unified and clean, whose momentum is so rapid, whose address is so direct that the work can be . . . just what it is. Is this possible now? It does happen in films, I believe. This is why cinema is the most alive, the most exciting, the most important of all art forms right now. Perhaps the way one tells how alive a particular art form is, is by the latitude it gives for making mistakes in it, and still being good.

– Susan Sontag

There is, however, one art that, by its very nature, escapes theater entirely–the movies. This helps explain why movies in generally, including frankly appalling ones, are acceptable to modernist sensibility, whereas all but the most successful painting, sculpture, music, and poetry is not. Because cinema escapes theater–automatically, as it were–it provides a welcome and absorbing refuge to sensibilities at war with theater and theatricality. At the same time, the automatic, guaranteed character of the refuge–more accurately, the fact that was is provided is a refuge from theater and not a triumph over it, absorption not conviction–means that the cinema, even at its most experimental, is not modernist art.

– Michael Fried


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Minimalist Sculpture

Posted: February 25, 2019 in Uncategorized

Tony Smith


Tony Smith
Untitled, 1960


Robert Morris
Untitled (L-Beams), 1965

Carl Andre
Steel Square, 1967


Donald Judd
Untitled, 1970

Especially For Beginners

Posted: February 25, 2019 in Uncategorized

Jumping over a puddle is both fun to try and to watch. It’s a small risk to take, but some puddles are too large to cross… There are greater risks, but whatever the stakes, they create excitement. And in the face of possible failure, success feels quite different. If you play a difficult run on the piano, the listeners will equally feel relief when you manage to land on the right note in time. The same goes for academic research and writing. If you start out with a provocative hypothesis, people will get excited about the way you mount the evidence. Although at least some grant agencies ask for risks taken in proposals, risk taking is hardly ever addressed in philosophy or writing guides. Perhaps people think it’s not a serious issue, but I believe it might be one of the crucial elements.

In addition to running the Handling Ideas Blog, Martin Lenz is professor and department chair in history of philosophy at Groningen University. He specialises in medieval and early modern philosophy.

Crap – Too Good To Be “Bad”

Posted: February 22, 2019 in Uncategorized

‘So bad its good’ is a type of enjoyment that seems specific to film and television. You probably wouldn’t wilfully listen to a terrible album, read a lousy book or go to see thematically redundant art, and yet many of us will sit down and watch the worst movie we can find with glee.

For the first time, academics have delved into this phenomenon, with the journal Poetics this week publishing a study entitled: ‘Enjoying trash films: Underlying features, viewing stances, and experiential response dimensions’.

“At first glance it seems paradoxical that someone should deliberately watch badly made, embarrassing and sometimes even disturbing films, and take pleasure in them,” writes Keyvan Sarkhosh, postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics.

Our love/hate affair with machiens; robots are our closest frenemies.

Dr Genevera Allen from Rice University in Houston said that the increased use of such systems was contributing to a “crisis in science”.

She warned scientists that if they didn’t improve their techniques they would be wasting both time and money. Her research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.

A growing amount of scientific research involves using machine learning software to analyse data that has already been collected. This happens across many subject areas ranging from biomedical research to astronomy. The data sets are very large and expensive.

Sessions’s only major opera, Montezuma, a dramatization of the fall of the Aztec Empire, is often cast as his magnum opus.

Minimalist Declaration of War

Posted: February 21, 2019 in Uncategorized



Robert Morris in costume for performance War, in collaboration with Robert Huot,
at Judson Memorial Church, New York, June 23, 1963

We never rehearsed War. It started with La Monte [Young] just hitting the gong for fifteen minutes in pitch-dark in the gym.

This is last minute, but there was a request today about further group outings. My friend Josh happens to be performing this evening as part of the Excellence In The Community Concert Series. I’ll be at The Gallivan Center at 7:30 PM. Please feel free to join me. Josh is a great musician and a really nice person. I think you’ll be glad you went. See you soon?

Students this semester didn’t show any interest in the art of Helen Frankenthaler. Is it possible that a female abstract expressionist means nothing in 2019? Perhaps the Op-Art of Bridget Riley will make a stronger impression. One upon a time, it didn’t get any cooler than this.

Bridget Riley
(b. 1931)

Movement in Squares, 1961

Uneasy Center, 1963

Hesitate, 1964

Descending, 1965

Drift No. 2, 1966

Like Leo Steinberg, Michael Fried did not write exclusively on modern art, but also produced numerous meticulous studies of art in 18th and 19th century France – The Age of Diderot.
Linked here below is Denis Diderot’s “Letter on The Blind.” It’s an analysis of how our conventional system of beliefs and morality is entirely determined by the priority which our culture affords sight, and how a completely different sensibility, which is to say a different moral system, would become the norm in a culture based on touch rather than vision, blindness rather than sightedness. As the painter Greuze depicts it below, as well as in so many of his other paintings, our own “melodramatic” bourgeois world would seem to be highly based on blindness, a lack which is forcefully contained, excluded and controlled precisely by making blindness a “touching” spectacle at our culture’s very center.

Jean-Baptiste Greuze
The Betrothal in The Village, 1776

Denis Diderot
“Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See”

Jean-Baptiste Greuze
(1725 – 1805)
The Father’s Curse, 1777

Diderot, in “Le Fils naturel” and “Père de famille, tried to turn the vein of domestic drama to account on the stage; that which he tried and failed to do, Greuze, in painting, achieved with extraordinary success, although his works, like the plays of Diderot, were affected by that very artificiality against which they protested. The touch of melodramatic exaggeration, however, which runs through them finds an apology in the firm and brilliant play of line, in the freshness and vigour of the flesh tints, in the enticing softness of expression, by the alluring air of health and youth, by the sensuous attractions, in short, with which Greuze invests his lessons of bourgeois morality. As Diderot said of “La Bonne mère,” il a prêché à la population; and a certain piquancy of contrast is the result which never fails to obtain admirers.

For all you silent auditors, it might help your grade to make a well-considered comment on this post. Honors is not about sitting voiceless and passively sponging information. It’s about taking a risk and speaking up.

For example, a failure to register the enormous difference in quality between, say, the music of Elliott Carter and that of John Cage or between the paintings of [Morris] Louis and those of Robert Rauschenberg means that the real distinctions–between music and theater in the first instance and between painting and theater in the second–are displaced by the illusion that the barriers between the art are in the process of crumbling and that the arts themselves are at last sliding towards some kind of final, implosive, highly desirable synthesis. Whereas in fact the individual arts have never been more explicitly concerned with the conventions that constitute their respective essences.

–Michael Fried

Please feel free to comment on the music posted above or below. The more you join in and discuss stuff like this, the more willing I’ll be to take the time to make it available. Can’t say it will hurt your grade any either.

Rather than strictly Avant-Garde (above), these pieces (below) represent a newer school of music known as Minimalism. This music, which might rightly be considered anti-music, will sound very different than the works of the last group of composers, the Modernists. As you will notice in your reading for next, Michael Fried makes direct reference to this kind of music, attempting as best he can in 1967, when it was still relatively new, to figure out exactly what is going on here, whether or not he approves, and why that is the case. Give a listen and see if you can hear what Fried is hearing.

It may interest some of you to know that LaMonte Young, who is generally recognized as the father of the Minimalist school, is a direct descendant of LDS prophet Brigham Young, and grew up in a log cabin just off Bear Lake. The sounds of howling winds and droning high-tension power lines left a deep impression on him as a boy and had a profound influence on his music.

Finally, these composers, for what it’s worth, are currently considered by expert consensus to be the best thing he have. Whereas Philip Glass was once the most recognized Minimalist composer on the scene, Steve Reich has over the last decade or so taken the lead. Most recently, Reich’s work has has been broadly recognized and performed in conjunction with the celebration of his 70th birthday.

Interesting note: I can practically guarantee that, in addition to Kraftwerk, it was the guys below, in particular Reich, to whom David Bowie was listening when in 1976 he moved to Berlin, stopped making rock music, and tried to go “avante-gard”. The result was the trilogy Low-Heroes-Lodger, which he made with the help of Brian Eno. These “rock” albums were in turn converted into symphonic music by Philip Glass.

Anyone wanting to discuss this music but unsure of how to begin, might want to consider it terms of the very famous “masterpiece” below by Jasper Johns. What does this painting teach about what we should be listening for in the music posted above? Is it really a masterpiece, and if so, why?

Jasper Johns
Fool’s House, 1962
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

It’s hard for us today to comprehend how, at a certain moment, intelligence in a woman could be the apex of cool. But, intelligence, for a brief interval in American culture, was downright sexy. And Sontag, in her day, was considered just that. Still, Sontag, in our assigned essays, seems to be launching a polemic against intellectuals and intellectualism. Why? And, in the end, does it even matter?





Roland Barthes
“Myth Today” (1957)


Kenneth Noland
(1924 – 2010)


East West (1963)


Bridge (1964)


Trans West (1965)


Galore (1966)

Suspension – Optical vs. Literal

Posted: February 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

Morris Lewis
(1912 -1962)


Dalet Kaf (1959)


Floral V (1959)


Points Of Tranquility (1959)


Where (1960)


Alpha Pi (1960)


Robert Morris
(b. 1931)

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Untitled (1968)


Untitled (1969)


Untitled (1969)


Untitled (1970)


Untitled (1973)