Archive for April, 2019

Moving On?

Posted: April 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

Nice to hear from you. I’m glad you’re thinking about your final, and along very sensible lines. Either of the authors you mention would be great for psychology majors, and for the reasons you indicate. So, really, the choice is up to you. De Beauvoir, I should point out, while not on the Psychology list of greatest hits, nevertheless might somewhere appear on someone’s syllabus. Meanwhile, Brecht might be preferable because he is even further off the beaten path. But, again, choose whichever of the two you prefer.

My more specific observations are as follows. De Beauvoir would indeed help to open up a discussion on the value not of various mediums, but rather multiple disciples in psychological research. In a word, investigating psychology merely from the perspective of positivist scientific method may well be entirely insufficient, when dealing with either marginal or normative patients. Recall that one of de Beauvoir’s primary contentions is that transcendence (human subjectivity) cannot be reduced to immanence (the physical body as understood by modern mechanist science), though women throughout modern society suffer from Man’s attempt to do just that.

If you were to write on Brecht, on the other hand, you would be able to explore his notion of ‘estrangement’, or alienation. While most persons on the Left consider alienation to be an entirely bad thing, Brecht seems to suggest that it is one of the necessary preconditions of critique. Brecht’s writing explore the value of estranging an audience from theatrical presentations, so that they can understand how acting and direction method and stagecraft serve to create a manipulate the viewer. In response to general ‘absorption’ of audiences with respect a staged spectacle, Brecht calls for a kind of theater which is overtly theoretical. Audiences don’t simply watch individual productions, but when going to the theater they are made actively to study the institution of theater itself. Here, you could say that students ought, beyond learning simply current psychological and laboratory research method, students should learn to theorize or critique established methods and research practices. I see in a now of fields that students are taught merely to do science, but not to think about how and why science is done it. Your paper might make a valuable contribution in that regard.

I’ll leave it at that for now. But let me repeat my earlier observation that these texts are well-chosen and you are understanding them correctly. Good luck as you move forward!

Brian K.

I hope that our meeting today was genuinely helpful. As I said, it can be difficult for anyone, myself especially, to generate sensible and useful ideas while being observed. As Rosalind Krauss would argue, you have to go through a lot of repetition before an ‘origin’ can emerge. Let me reiterate that I greatly admire and appreciate your willingness to work with very challenging ideas. IIt says a great deal about you, as many students only look for the easiest possible A. Also, can you imagine what a relief it provides me actually to read unexpected and well-reasoned insights, as opposed to more of the same wearisome diatribes against ‘regurgitation’ or calls for ‘ethical” and ‘well-rounded’ undergraduates. So, congratulations and thanks for your curiosity and endeavor. Meanwhile, I’ll be here to help if you run into trouble.

With reference to your second claim, and perhaps your whole paper, you might want to consider that what Rosalind Krauss’s “Sculpture In The Expanded Field” most fundamentally does is challenge any sort of ‘grand narrative’ of the history of modern art. For instance:

1 • the avant-garde’s heroic legacy, which supposedly leads back into the 19th (Courbet and Ingres heroic sacrifices, or Manet’s aggressive flatness) and even the 18th century (Diderot’s fascination with absorption), as well as it’s eventual ‘New York triumph’ (cleverly lampooned by Mark Tansey)

2 • the heroic career and supposed ‘breakthrough’ moment of ‘genius discovery’ of the individual artist

3 • the official history of how a specific monumental work of art came into being (Rodin’s Gates of Hell); all these ‘meta-narratives’ Krauss’s essay casts into radical doubt. I can foresee a successful final essay coming from this idea alone, along with the three distinct claims I mention. You don’t have to follow this suggestion to write a great paper. I just offer these thoughts as a further illustration of my comments in our meeting this afternoon. I hope they are helpful.

Finally, below [in this post, above] is a link to the book I mentioned by Hal Foster, who is a very close associate of Rosalind Krauss. While I believe she was the person who most directly initiated the production of the radically revisionist Art Since 1900, it seems from reading the published roundtable conversations at the end of each volume that the leading role was assumed by Foster after Krauss’s aneurysm. Krauss was certainly present for the conversations, but her comments are surprisingly brief for someone who built a massive reputation for being an undaunted and unapologetic polemicist. Anyhow, check the link below.

Nice chatting today. Good luck as you move forward!

Brian K.

I’ve tried to find the passage you cite but can’t locate it in Linda Nochlin. I’m not sure why. In any case, it does open some possibilities for you. One of these – if I understand the passage correctly – is to argue that Nochlin discusses the priority of process over product. While you and others may have heard this dictum before, it remains very vague, a mere platitude. Nochlin’s essay, however, might allow you to make such a bare utterance more meaningful. I’ve discussed with other students on a few occasions the thought that Nochlin does not value ‘greatness’, which she sees as a historical and ideological concept linked to Hegel’s dialectic of Master and Slave. In the 19th century ‘great men’ of ‘great deeds’ and ‘big ideas’ paid artists a few dollars to produce monumental portraits of them. Later, in the 20th century this relationship was reversed, with ‘genius’ artists producing ‘great works’ and simply hiring an arbitrary model to sit for them for a few dollars. In either case, a very significant power difference remains in place.

The art Linda Nochlin supports – see the images on the blog by Alice Neel – does not enter into this mighty contest. You will notice there is nothing either heroic or submissive about her subjects. They stand on equal footing with the artist. The portraits that result are the product, the remainder of a process of bilateral social exchange, one in which each persons offers something unique to the other and each walks away a having learned something about themself in the encounter, while the painting is the physical record of the transaction. This sort of portraiture might allow you to develop a new definition or understanding of ‘business’, one which provides a refreshing alternative to the prevalent belief that business, in its essence, is a kind of warfare. I mean, how many business students are right now sitting up at night reading The Art of War (or planning to), or The Prince, or The Art of The Deal? It’s a painful thought. In contrast to this, would it possible to think of doing business without at the same time conjuring images of battle? Nochlin would seem to believe so. Not only would making such an argument offer an alternative to the dominant business model, but it would also run far more in line with Nochlin’s objection to the Vietnam War, the mood of the day in which she lived, and the spirit of Intellectual Traditions – a course who name looks far more dubious after reading Nochlin.

Conveniently, this question raises a potential counter-argument: so, does Nochlin not care at all about the actual quality of art; should we be content with bad or merely mediocre paintings? Not necessarily. While the artists Nochlin likes may not have created monumental instances of ‘greatness’, they have nevertheless managed to find a way – in a rigged system, and against all odds – to works of genuine ‘excellence.’ So, what’s the difference between greatness and excellence, and why is one preferable to the other? And what might an understanding of this distinction teach students in the school of Business?

I’ll leave you to think about those questions. I hope they makes sense and lead you to some genuine insights. Finally, I hope this process of exchange between you and me will offer an living example of what Nochlin means by negotiation, and how process may indeed be more interesting and valuable than product – though there is certainly nothing wrong which achieving excellent results.

Best to you,
Brian K.

Daniel Buren
Les Guirlandes
Documenta 7
Kasel, Germany

Aabco Rentals
Blue Gorilla (27ft. Inflatable)
(Order Now!)

[Christy] Rupp and I live in the same building in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks south of City Hall, where the most reactionary mayor in New York’s recent history delivers the city over to powerful real estate developers while city services decline and our poorer citizens are further marginalized. The combination of the Reagan administration’s cuts in federal programs to aid the poor and New York’s cynically manipulated housing shortage has resulted in a reported 30,000 homeless people now living on the streets of the city. The hard and brutal conditions of these people’s lives can be imagined by observing the few of them who spend every evening in the alleyway behind our building competing with rats for the garbage left there by McDonald’s and Burger King. Mayor Koch was publicly embarrassed in the spring of 1979, when the media reported the story of a neighborhood office worker attacked by these rats as she left work. Such an event would certainly have been routine had it happened in one of the city’s ghetto districts, but in this case the Health Department was called in, and their findings were rather sensational: the vacant lot adjoining the alleyway contained thirty-two tons of garbage and was home to an estimated 4,000 rodents. But they also found something else, even more difficult to explain to the public. Pasted to the temporary wall barricading the vacant lot from the street were pictures of a huge, sinister attacking rat, reproductions of a photograph from the Health Department’s own files.

–Douglas Crimp, “The Art of Exhibition” (1984)

Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, . . . who teaches art history at the State University of New York at Westbury, defends the propaganda materials he has selected for this exhibition by, among other things, attacking the late Alfred H. Barr, Jr., for his alleged failure to comprehend “the radical change that [modern] artists and theoreticians introduced into the history of aesthetic theory and production in the twentieth century.” What this means, apparently, is that Alfred Barr would never have accepted Professor Buchloh’s Marxist analysis of the history of modern art, which appears to be based on Louis Althusser‘s Lenin and Philosophy. (Is this really what is taught as modern art history at SUNY Westbury? Alas, one can believe it.)

Hilton Kramer, quoted in Douglas Crimp’s “The Art of Exhibition”
October, Vol. 30. (Autumn, 1984)

We have here yet another example of [Hilton] Kramer’s moralizing cultural conservatism disguised as progressive modernism. But we also have an interesting estimation of the discursive practice of the museum in the period of modernism and of its present transformation. Kramer’s analysis fails, however, to take into account the extent to which the museum’s claims to represent art coherently have already been opened to question by the practices of contemporary — postmodern — art.

Douglas Crimp, “On The Museum’s Ruins”
October, Vol. 13 (Summer, 1980)

Some students have expressed interest in seeing the essays below. They are OPTIONAL. The essays discusses the discrepancy between the sanitized and popularized Andy Warhol most people recognize, as opposed to the actual queer AF Andy Warhol.

At present, Warhol ranks as one of the most highly “collectable” artists on earth. Yet the majority of museums choose to keep most of Warhol’s work underground, considering it not in keeping with the ‘family-friendly’ image of him the public finds agreeable. Consequently, it’s a fun and benign Andy with which most of us are familiar. Consider, for instance, this cheerful statement taken from the U of U’s website.

‘I am so delighted to have Warhol’s work out in the communities throughout the West so that people of all ages can experience these works personally,’ said Jordan Schnitzer, President of Harsch Investment Properties and print collector. ‘He was an icon of his time and these suites act as a powerful mirror for exploring our shared values.’ (

AGAIN, this article is NOT assigned, but feel free to read it if you’re interested in Pop Art and queer aesthetics and politics. If I were a better teacher I’d probably make it required reading. But I can only do so much in fifteen weeks.

Douglas Crimp
“Getting the Warhol We Deserve”

Social Text, No. 59 (Summer 1999)


Students may also be interested in a very different take on Andy Warhol, that of Princeton University art historian Hal Foster, author of The First Pop Age.

Hal Foster
“Death In America”
October, No. 71 (Winter 1996)

Andy Warhol
Saturday Disaster (1964)

It’s the 80s as you’ve never seen it before. Explore the iconic decade when artwork became a commodity and the artist, a brand. Razor-sharp, witty, satirical and deeply subversive, these nearly 150 works examine the origins and rise of a new generation of artists in 1980s New York who blurred the lines between art, entertainment and commerce, a shift that continues to define contemporary art today.

Thirty years ago, seismic shifts in politics, economics and technology brought about a golden era of contemporary art in the United States, particularly in New York City, with its heady Wall Street wealth and gritty streets.

“I was one of those guys that got blamed for the 80s,” muses Robert Longo from his NY studio in the latest installment of director Matt Black’s Reflections series. After the 1977 Pictures show at Artists Space in Manhattan made his Hollywood cinema-inspired enamelled aluminium reliefs famous, Longo went on to become one of the most collected, exhibited and talked about artists of the early 1980s, most widely known for the suit-and-tie wearing charcoal-drawn silhouettes dancing in his “Men in the Cities” series.

This video always makes me smile.





In the late 1960s, the artist Vito Acconci wandered into a movie theater near Times Square hoping to catch an art film and was confused to see a group of ragged-looking musicians take the stage. That group turned out to be the Velvet Underground, whose first album sold poorly but whose influence was so profound, as Brian Eno later said, that everyone who bought the record started a band.

The same sentiment might be expressed about Mr. Acconci’s influence in the contemporary art world. The genetic impact of his performances, photographs and video works from just an eight-year period — 1968 to 1976 — is so pervasive that it is difficult to trace.

Of all the stupid things you are likely going to do today, I must insist that printing this PDF is not one of them. This portable document format file is anything but portable and calling it a document is, at best, a euphemism. Believe me when I say that I like printing digital artefacts on dead trees as much as the next guy, but this is one PDF that was never meant to make it to meatspace.

Unless, of course, you happen to have a burning desire to coat a square kilometer of the planet with black rectangles. In that case, you should definitely print this 2,568 page PDF.

The PDF in question was unleashed on the world in a tweet by Kenneth Goldsmith, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who teaches classes about how to waste time on the internet, founder of the avant garde repository UbuWeb, and self-described “uncreative writer.” When I spoke to Goldsmith over email, he said he was in the process of printing out the PDF.

“I think it is the most shockingly mangled and abortive monument I can think of.”

–Robert Pogue Harrison, Rosina Pierotti Professor of French and Italian Literature, Stanford University

When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in Washington, D.C., there were immediate objections to a quotation inscribed on his statue. An utterance that King had spoken in humility had been edited to read as a statement of conceit: “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.”

The stone likeness of King was similarly condemned. A “failure,” wrote Edward Rothstein in the New York Times in August 2011. “The memorial could be vastly improved by simply removing the statue,” opined Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post.

The podcast above discusses the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Monument To Women, in Nauvoo, Illionois. Things get really interesting around 40:00.

Dennis Smith and Florence Hansen
Joyful Moment

STUDENT: Walter Benjamin talks about how the substructure changes faster than the superstructure and the fact that it is only now that we are able to discern what form it has taken. Is he referring to an overall change in society due to the modern era of limitless reproduction?

Also, Benjamin distinguishes between exhibition value and ritual value. He says a piece of art always has an aura which is never independent from its ritual function, and that every piece is “embedded in a fabric of tradition.” He then goes on to say that with the rise of mechanical reproduction art has shifted to being based on a practice of politics. Is this change in art’s principle motivation the exhibition value he mentions, or am I missing something?

TEACHER: By substructure and superstructure, Benjamin means technological conditions and the form of consciousness these conditions bring into being. His argument, derived from Hegel and Marx, is that there is NO SUCH THING AS HUMAN NATURE OR HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS, PER SE. Rather, different forms of human consciousness are brought into being by technological conditions. Recall Brecht’s assertion, in The Epic Theater, that ‘human nature’ is alterable and a discontinuous ‘process’. If this is true, it’s not possible to understand a social formation, to become conscious of it, until after it has developed. We can’t theorize the age of mechanical reproduction until after is has already shaped the very consciousness with which we will attempt to understand it.

One more word about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it… When philosophy paints its gray in gray, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s gray in gray it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.

–G.W.F. Hegel

By implication, we can’t make very many predictions about the future – which is why Benjamin writes in terms of tentative theses – and must rather reflect upon history, rethinking and rewriting it in terms of new insights. The example I gave of this in class the other day was that of the heroic creator Rodin, whom Krauss teaches us to rethink and reevaluate from the perspective of Andy Warhol, the avowedly mechanical artist. It’s only from the position of Warhol that we are able to look back at Rodin, the authentic and original artists who sculpted ‘with the hand of God’, and see just how deeply immersed he was in the market, repetition and modes of mechanical reproduction.

To our astonishment, Rodin, viewed in retrospect from this new ground, suddenly appears no longer the genius artist we knew and loved but now the impresario of Kitsch. Thus, a ‘Great Man’ has been rendered historical and a great myth, that of the ‘originality of the avant-garde’, has been debunked. We are freed from the romantic ideology of “heroism and hero-worship”.

Barbara Kreuger
I Shop Therefore I Am (1987)

Ritual value is the magical power objects have over individuals. Recall, in Ivan Illich‘s Vineyard of The Text, the power that reading the Bible had before the rise of the printing press. Bible were rare and precious, and the reading of them had a cult value. It was a sacred event. After the printing press, everybody can have their own Bible and reading it whenever they want in the privacy of their own home. If an object has ritual value then it actually has authority over us, whereas if an object has exhibition value we have authority over it. If you want to see the Sistine Chapel, today, you don’t make a pilgrimage to Rome. Instead, you click this link. Cultural artifacts are available ‘on demand’.

Benjamin’s argument addresses the transition from cult value (in which the work of art is “embedded in a fabric of tradition”) to exhibition value (within modern Capitalism, under which history is nothing more than a bargain basements of styles from which the consumer picks and ‘samples’). This transition marks a seismic shift in human ‘nature’ and consciousness. Further, this shift in the cultural superstructure reflects a prior shift in the material substructure, one ripe with political implications. Benjamin ends his essay with the clarion call that contemporary critical thought must concentrate not on ‘aestheticizing politics’ (recall the films of Leni Reifenstahl, which occasioned Benjamin’s essay).

Rather, critical thought today should be directed toward ‘politicizing aesthetics’.

By extension, Benjamin’s essay argues that we must critical interrogate the entire optical realm we inhabit, the ‘architecture’ of manufactured images that surrounds us so completely that we now take this ‘world’ entirely for granted and consider it to be natural, normal and inevitable – if we bother to consider it at all.

The implications of all of the above for today’s university are tremendous. This should give you plenty to consider for your final. Good luck as you prepare it!

Right On Time!

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

Mia Lin
Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

Frederick Hart
Three Soldiers Monument

The years that saw the memorial’s proposal, design, and construction—1980 to 1982—coincided with a momentous shift in the topography of American political culture: the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the ensuing negotiation of a new federal agenda. This development was shaped by the theories of economic neoliberals on the one hand and by the values of their socially conservative allies on the other. Far from being a fait accompli, amassing the public will to support this new agenda took real work. In large part, this was accomplished through a series of conflicts waged at the level of culture. The earliest of these battles was the controversy over Lin’s design. Revisiting the terms of this conflict not only provides insight into how and why visual art came to be so politicized in the 1980s, but also sheds light on the debates of our present historical moment, which, in many ways, parallel the debates of that period regarding the social purpose of art.

Culture Wars: A riveting account of how Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, and conservative Catholics have joined forces in a battle against their progressive counterparts for control of American secular culture.

What are we doing in IT1?

Here’s a quick review of today’s lesson for anyone who might want a summary like the one I wrote the other day about Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Ethics.

What I tried to point out in class today is how decidedly non-metaphysical the archaic Greek gods were. They were anything but Aristotle’s unary, self-identical, non-contradictory, unchanging, fully actualized and active, rational, and immaterial Creator, or Unmoved Mover. Rather, the Homeric gods were plural, embodied, passionate, self-contradictory, mercurial, etc. If there was any classical Greek principle or virtue of which the Homeric gods knew nothing, it would have been the famous ‘golden mean’. The archaic Greek gods were not moderate but excessive beings.

This polytheistic and plural view of the gods radically alters not only our understanding of them, but also whatever expectations we could plausibly entertain with regard to the humans depicted in The Illiad. This is because, as Jean-Pierre Vernant agues, rather than understanding the Homeric gods as anthropomorphic (derived from human nature), it is best to understand the bodies of Homeric heroes as ‘theomorphic’ (based on the bodies of the Olympian gods). Homeric (i.e., pre-Socratic) emotions, motives, and actions are anything but consistent and rational. While Homeric characters may undergo various modifications, some quite extreme, none of the various ‘characters’ in the Illiad – if we can even justifiably consider them characters – shows any of the well-defined identity or progressive development for which we may have been trained to look when reading literature. These warriors don’t go on any sort of “hero’s journey”.

On a higher level, this insight into the nature of the Homeric gods alters not only how we view the plot and characters in The Illiad, but also how we understand the very form of the book itself. We have received The Illiad, in tamed condition, heavily processed and (re)constituted by the librarians of Alexandria. The story, as we now have it, may well show numerous signs of rational formal design. But once we remove from the text, with the help of Knox and Heller-Roazen, the major Alexandrian insertions, the epic suddenly appears to us for what it originally was before Aristarchus ‘corrected’ it: WILD.

Final Readings of The Semester!

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Readings

In years past I have asked students to read all three of the essays below. This time, as my explanations of very new difficult ideas have gotten notably slower, I will only ask you to read ‘End of Art’ and ‘Art of Exhibition’. ‘Museum’s Ruins’ is available but optional. Read it and ask questions if you feel the inclination. Good luck!

Princeton University Press: Here’s a sneak peek at our Fall 2019 catalogue, out next week! This page is from Protest!: A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics, by Liz McQuiston.

Throughout history, artists and citizens have turned to protest art as a means of demonstrating social and political discontent. From the earliest broadsheets in the 1500s to engravings, photolithographs, prints, posters, murals, graffiti, and political cartoons, these endlessly inventive graphic forms have symbolized and spurred on power struggles, rebellions, spirited causes, and calls to arms. Spanning continents and centuries, Protest! presents a major new chronological look at protest graphics.

Beginning in the Reformation, when printed visual matter was first produced in multiples, Liz McQuiston follows the iconic images that have accompanied movements and events around the world.

As I tried to suggest in class, one of the great endeavors of Surrealist art was to argue that modern science – a supposedly disinterested and value-neutral method of approaching the world – is, as a matter of fact, driven by multiple unacknowledged desires and fears. To employ a term made famous by Sigmund Freud, science has an Unconscious. To expose the unconscious of science is precisely the point of Buñuel and Dalí’s film Un Chien Andalou, which takes it cues, scene for scene, from the writings and diagrams of Rene Descartes. What this film tries to show is that scientific knowledge is gendered, male. This cinematic critique of the supposed objectivity of modern science is invaluable.

However, one can’t help but notice that this film, for all that it sheds light on the desires driving science, nevertheless continues to play with the objectification of women. There have been a number of responses to the scandal of Surrealist art, including at least two different Feminist responses. The first, which we might associate with second-wave feminism of the ’60s and ’70s, would be shocked and outraged at the overt sexism of Buñuel and Dalí’s art, and the way Surrealism, in general, objectified Woman. By contrast, the second, which we might in turn associate with third-wave feminism of the ’80s and ’90s, would be intensely curious about the ways Surrealist practices problematize normative modes of perceiving Woman, or gender in general, as well as male-dominated scientific knowledge, and, by extension, all “objective” reality.