Default
Art Talk
Thumb sailer
November 12, 2010, 11:43 PM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF
Not having much to say, I realized I might as well post these comments from Ray Sawhill that were buried deep in the comments:
Hey, Steve`s comment about Annie Liebovitz — "Sure, Annie Liebowitz is an airhead, but she`s made more people look cool over the last 40 years than anybody else" — highlights a little hobbyhorse theme of mine, namely that art-talent and IQ have little or nothing to do with each other! Fun.

If anyone`s interested and open to the idea ... As someone who`s led the arts-and-media life for more than 30 years, I suggest that you`ll find it far more useful to think of art-talent as something that resembles athletic talent than it is to think of it as something having anything to do with IQ-style brainpower. The work of art-and-entertainment world people is sometimes worth paying attention to not because these are such smart people who are conferring their brainpower on us but because they`re gifted people who`ve managed to find ways to turn their often bizarre talents into products that the rest of us can enjoy.

Creative artsworld people are often seriously unimpressive intellectually. But they`re also often gifted in ways that can make your jaw drop.

And ...
Which to my mind brings up a whole other topic: How much fabulous art is out there that you`ve never heard of (and never will hear of), because editors, critics and profs are ignorant, or resistant, or copycats? In my experience, ANY time I poked around a little corner of art history on my own (in other words, any time I bore down on a little corner of art history hard enough to get by the usual masterpieces and landmarks and do a little investigating of my own), I found work that I thought was great, in fact often greater than what the profs, critics, historians etc had told me about.

Another question: Let`s face it, historians, critics, editors and such — the people who write and publish the articles and books, and who teach the classes — are a peculiar bunch. They`re a lot more scholarly and intellectual than most people are, for one thing. To what extent has this shared temperament shaped our view of art history? Maybe the version of it they pass along is best understood as "a history of the art that intellectuals approve of"? Should we — we non-scholar types — maybe be a little more challenging of (and wary of) their tastes and their lists?

I would add that a lot of the art of the past that gets left out of the standard art history textbooks wasn`t obscure outsider art, it`s stuff that was a really big deal in its time. We all like to think that great artists like Van Gogh and Kafka are dropping dead unheeded all the time, only to be discovered much later. But the reality is that most of the artists who get rediscovered were stars in their own day, or would have been if they`d only lived their three score and ten.

It`s kind of depressing to think of all the talent that gets forgotten. For example, compare Borges and Burgess. Today, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is seen as one of the giants of 20th Century literature. Google comes up with 2,340,000 pages for his name. Back in the 1970s, however, Borges was probably no more famous than Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), who is little mentioned today except in conjunction with his novel A Clockwork Orange,, which was made into a celebrated movie by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. ("Anthony Burgess" has only 463,000 pages on Google today). Borges, an ardent Anglophile and admirer of Burgess, wrote that he hoped that he and Burgess were relatives.

Today, Burgess`s reputation is in one of those lulls that follows the death of a writer who lived a long time, wrote a gigantic amount, and whose later novels weren`t as strong as his earlier ones. It`s like how a lot of basketball fans remember the fortyish Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of 1989 more than the force of nature Kareem of 1972.

Burgess mostly pursued music composition and teaching as a young man, then started publishing books around age 39 and wouldn`t stop, publishing something like 50 books over the rest of his life.

Like Burgess, Borges had a long decline phase (not surprising, because he went blind), but that was masked in the English-speaking world because it took place in a different language. With Borges, you only need to read about his best 100 pages (and there is a pretty clear consensus on his ten or twenty best short stories), so he`s easy to get into. Burgess, in contrast, was so prolific, and it`s hard to tell what was his best stuff, so he`s kind of daunting and easy to ignore.

Was Burgess as good as everybody assumed he was in the 1970s? I don`t know. In the mid-1970s I was hugely impressed by his 1974 novel The Napoleon Symphony , a historical novel about Bonaparte structured to follow Beethoven`s Eroica Symphony (which had originally been dedicated to Bonaparte until he crowned himself Emperor). But, I was a callow youth, so what do I know? I read quite a few more of his books, but they became progressively less dazzling.

Likewise, was Burgess a good critic? God knows he was a prolific critic. In the 1970s, his reviews were highly prestigious, but by the 1990s, he was increasingly seen as a hack.

Was Burgess a hack who deserves to be forgotten? Perhaps. He certainly liked making money from writing. But, it`s also possible that the reputation he enjoyed in the 1970s was reasonable.

Hopefully, some consensus will emerge on what was Burgess`s best stuff, and his influence will come into better view.

Anyway, it`s more likely that Burgess will be rediscovered by a new generation than that some dead writer who was obscure all his life will be discovered for the first time.