Why We Hate Abstract Painting Right Now

by Christina Rees November 18, 2015

I didn’t expect that International Pop at the Dallas Museum of Art (which is a very cool show) would get me thinking more about Zombie Abstraction, but that’s what happened. This is simply because I’m even more aware of how different my reaction is to some work versus other work, generally, in light of the recent Glasstire-driven conversation around abstract painting. I thought we were done talking about it, but the argument has continued offline, and considered in the context of art that resonates strongly with me, it bears revisiting.

But first, briefly: International Pop is cool, but not because it tries hard or strikes a pose. International Pop is cool because it’s solidly grounded in its time (primarily the 1960s), and the work was made by artists who were genuinely fascinated by the transition and possibility inherent in the post-war tumult. It’s a scruffy show, and willfully disjointed, given that the work comes from so many different places (specifically places that are not our place). The late mechanical age was ripe in its politics and as a grand and chaotic social experiment, and at that point, art was a valid way to respond to all that.

From International Pop: Tadanori Yokoo, Slavor, 1966

From International Pop: Tadanori Yokoo, Slavor, 1966

When you walk through the show, you can slip into the brains and concerns of the artists who made the work and feel their curiosity and excitement, their worry and their sense of play. A lot of this Pop Art is—counterintuitively—fast and loose, and looks and feels a bit unfinished or in-progress. And physically, the materials show their age. The work has traveled a long way, geographically and spiritually, to reach us here in the digital age.

From International Pop: Wanda Pimentel, Untitled - Série Envolvimento, 1968

From International Pop: Wanda Pimentel, Untitled – Série Envolvimento, 1968

Therefore the work in the show carries, and, up to the point of this writing, qualifies for the problematic description “timeless.” Not every piece, but en masse and (for the most part) individually, the works still have impact 50 years on. Timelessness is a tough nut to crack unless you’re an artist in tune with your time and you’re making art that responds to it, while gesturing toward an unknowable and disinterested future. International Pop (very well-installed, by the way) won’t change your life, but it’ll make your week and your brain richer and fuller.

From International Pop: Ushio Shinohara, Oiran, 1968

From International Pop: Ushio Shinohara,
Oiran, 1968

So the work works. When figuring out an artwork’s impact, the three inherent questions surrounding the work’s existence are: 1) what compelled the artist to make it in the first place, 2) how fully does this piece exist in its world, and 3) is my world even a little shifted after having seen it? Like Pop Art, when Formalism and Abstraction took hold in the 20th century, they sprung from an urgency to communicate something new, something else, honest and open-ended to the world, and they were very much of their time. This is what allows an artwork to become timeless. In that sense, and in the hands of a real artist, even a slight or playful gesture contains a whole universe.

From International Pop: Cildo Meireles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project (Inserções em Circuitos Ideológicos: Projeto Coca-Cola), 1970

From International Pop: Cildo Meireles,
Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project (Inserções em Circuitos Ideológicos: Projeto Coca-Cola), 1970

All of the best art springs from this impulse. This real need to respond, if not fire warning shots. And in recent years, the only contemporary art that turns me on is that which is clearly made in and of its own time. Our digital revolution and our current social and geopolitical climate make for boundless, heady material, and yet countless artist are churning out formulaic “blasts from the past” that ask nothing from new, frankly dumb collectors, and gives nothing in return aside from being moderately decorative. (I put the odious, jokey “Conceptual Lite” into this camp as well. I hate it more than I hate Zombie Formalism.) The younger artists don’t even know that a version of their uninspiring painting or sculpture was made 30 years ago by an artist who couldn’t find traction with it. The only thing supporting the current deluge of Zombie Formalism is an insatiable, uneducated “market” and a lot of artists who aren’t subjected to any real checks and balances, i.e. critical scrutiny. Ninety-nine percent of the newest art at art fairs will line the big birdcage of tomorrow.

Currently at Ballroom Marfa: Ed Atkins, Even Pricks, 2013. video installation.

Currently at Ballroom Marfa: Ed Atkins, Even Pricks, 2013. video installation.

I’m starting to see the trend recede (as all trends do), and after meeting with and seeing the work of so many younger people, I’m generally convinced of their engagement with the Here and Now. It takes a lot of forms, and some of those don’t yet have a name. This is good. And I don’t have a problem, generally, with continued explorations of Formalist concerns, because that’s as much about physics-plus-nature—which really is timeless material—as it is about art.

But I can ask that artist steep themselves in art history so they know where we’ve already been—and I do believe this is crucial—because there’s a serious difference between knowing your work evokes Manzoni (because Manzoni resonates with you and his concerns are your concerns) and accidentally making something that looks like Manzoni, who you’ve never even heard of. And if you don’t think savvier, emotionally invested art viewers can spot the difference, think again. And if you seriously don’t give a fuck because your work is selling to speculators and dumb people: I’m happy you can sleep at night. Someone has to.

When Rainey Knudson and Michael Bise complain on these pages about Zombie Abstraction, they’re not mindlessly echoing some established chorus for the sake of entertainment. They’re expressing, again, a real fatigue about market-driven pap that has no resonance or presence, no interest in the world, and no future.

From Strange Pilgrims: Paul Sharits, Dream Displacement, 1976. Installation with four 16 mm films, color, sound, projected simultaneously in continuous loop.

From Strange Pilgrims: Paul Sharits, Dream Displacement, 1976. Installation with four 16 mm films, color, sound, projected simultaneously in continuous loop.

Comparing the impact of the work of today’s Zombie Formalists to that of 1960s Pop Artists isn’t an obvious move, but any viewer confronted by art in a museum or gallery can certainly clock their own visceral reaction to the art—or their lack of visceral reaction or mental stimulation—and hope to find that moment of discovery in any art they see in the course of a week, a month, a year. A lot of the same blissed-out, laser-focused neurons are firing in my brain when I look at the Tadanori Yokoo in International Pop as the ones that fired just down the museum’s hallway in the screening of Ed Atkin’s video. Likewise, last weekend while walking through Strange Pilgrims, a big current Austin group exhibition, I’m as beguiled by Paul Sharits’ work from 1976 as I am the new installation (and especially the video component) of Phil Collins’ contribution to the show. Apples and oranges, sure. But in further comparison, the aftertaste of Zombie Formalism is sawdust, dosed with historical ignorance, critical tone-deafness, or cynicism, depending on the artist.




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Cabe November 18, 2015 - 13:09

I like this article and the way it was written because I could understand it and I knew what it meant without having to dig deeper or pretend like I did. It was very well written and I like the words. I’m not kidding. I think if I see one more post by somebody who is supposedly a big supporter of local arts about somebody on a surfboard painting a mural and mind equals blown I’m going to mind equals blown. With a fucking gun. Every fucking day I see excuses for art they don’t involve fucking artist it’s like hey this guy that doesn’t ride Broncos for a living stayed on a bull for 10 minutes and had the holy shit kicked out of him and that’s buzz-worthy , what are the people that actually ride Bulls everyday are getting the shit kicked out of them everyday. I love that term zombie art I don’t get out enough I guess. Especially if they’re zombie artists out there. I know there is the 28 days later the artists out there. Wow if I haven’t had people screaming at me for nothing. For nothing…. hell I thought it was stressful for me never to get out. Evidently getting out and drinking and hanging out with everybody makes you a violent psychobrain virus shriek monkey zombie . I see more people that actually know one another come to blows at art shows than I have at concerts… and I’m not talking about the kind that makes you go “plop drip”.. thank you. But I digress … great article thank you. I don’t hate abstract art any more than I hate the game Axis and Allies or Dungeons and Dragons. But the imitators oh my …. the imitators. The sad thing about life is when something is good and it never really goes bad it’s the people that imitate it make it stink …. for starters just buy some lingerie from China, or just look at late 90’s heavy metal or even late seventies heavy metal or just look at heavy metal. And I’m not going to give a decade for rap please ok? Yes our hands are are the hands in the air we just don’t care please stop asking. I am so sick of gimmick art aka buzzworthy art and that lady that tried to fix the Jesus painting in Italy ….really. …I am so fucking tired of her shit. She turned it into a god damn abstraction. I’m sorry she turned it into a god abstraction. Well I guess I better sign out before Masterpiece Theater ends and all the hi brows and haters show up just start ripping the shit out of this… okay, i admit I’m allergic to tweed and projectile vomiting pontifications. Besides I gotta go work. My day is organized and not very abstract as some might think

Joachim West November 18, 2015 - 13:16

YES!!!! You really made my day with this article. It’s so great! Thank you for writing it!

pierre k. November 18, 2015 - 13:30

i only made up “conceptual-lite” to casually describe my work when asked what i make out of acute self awareness and respect for the past. .. how i make “nontraditional”things that are deeply rooted in tradition. also because what i do can be perceived as stupid by most. “lite” is like laughing before anyone else does. except i’m not joking at all. mostly crying tbqh. but it’s chill. i feel u.

Christina Rees November 18, 2015 - 13:39

PK: We’ve been using the term ‘Conceptual Lite’ in our household for a long time; long before I knew any of your work. I didn’t know you used the term as well. I wasn’t referring to your work.

pierre k. November 18, 2015 - 13:54

haha cool i’ll just go back to saying i make stupid things again

btw November 18, 2015 - 14:59

It’s ok, everyone knows glasstire is a personal blog with no need for specifics or examples of the omnipresent dumb-dumb young artists. It would be much too dangerous for the board of directors to burn a percentage of the readership. Not in whippersnappers, not in zombies. Not never.

Kevin Parmer November 18, 2015 - 13:44

Is “Conceptual-Lite” the same as “post-skills?”

Joachim West November 18, 2015 - 21:59

I imagine that they generally refer to the same thing.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie “I Am Not a Hipster”? Most of my friends hated it but it’s probably one of my favorite independent films, though I do realize that it has its faults. The main character is a musician and his best friend is an artist and the movie is largely about being a creative person while dealing with depression and loss, a situation that I strongly sympathize with.

In the film there is a scene where the musician goes to his friends art show. The musician is asked by the artist what he thought about the art. Initially he lies in order to protect his friends feelings. When he sees that the artists invited a musician that he doesn’t respect and who is dating his ex-girlfriend to play a set at his art show the musician tells the artist his true feelings. He says that if he were to take his straw and film it and then take the footage and add a hipstamatic filter and then play it in a loop that because people are stupid they will think that there is some sort of meaning behind it. In reality, he says, the world is being swamped by kids with cameras and computers who make so much of this kind of pointless garbage and call it art that it makes it difficult to find anything that isn’t meaningless. The artist defends himself by saying that he just enjoys making stuff. “Fine, just don’t call it art” says the musician. “Call it something else”. “Call it Fluffy Shit”.

The computer, the internet, contemporary thought about what is valid as art, are all wonderful, incredible advancements but at the same time they have also allowed for the phenomenon that the musician complains about. The art schools (including the prestigious ones) pop out a million graduates who lack basic and fundamental skills and who fill the galleries with mediocre trifle. The clientele don’t know any better and the galleries are happy to sell them whatever they are willing to buy for however much they can get away with. Things like “how smooth of a salesman” the artist is ends up taking precedence over the actual quality of the work when you have an uneducated clientele and often immoral gallerists who may be largely uneducated as well or who just haven’t really thought deeply into these things. I’ve found that people generally don’t have the time or are to lazy to really think deeply into things anyway and often just end up jumping on the bandwagon of whatever view is most popular in their social group. The artworld is plagued by groupthink.

This is exactly why I can’t say it enough; I am really grateful that Texas has Glasstire because what they are doing is incredibly important and Christina, Rainey and Michael Bise are doing a tremendous job at it. They do the deep thinking and are helping to sort through all of the “fluffy shit” that clutters the art world. Moreover, to do it they often have to stand against the tide and that takes guts. They also provide a huge release of tension for people like me who love and care about art and get frustrated by the injustices and terrible things that go on in art world and the things that mess up the system.

Bill Marvel November 18, 2015 - 17:22

“Timelessness is a tough nut to crack unless you’re an artist in tune with your time and you’re making art that responds to it, while gesturing toward an unknowable and disinterested future.” On tje other hand what does it mean to be “an artist in tune with your time” a cenrtury or more after your time. Rachmaninoff and Bach were very much lagging behind their times by mid-career. Today, their music is timeless. Perhaps questions of timelessness are best left for history to decide. And even history seems to have trouble making up its mind.

Rainey Knudson November 18, 2015 - 20:27

You make a good point about the fact that some artists peak early, some mid-career, and some late (and a tiny handful of badasses keep good ideas coming their whole lives). Funny you bring up classical music: I was thinking about this in the context of Mozart this week, specifically the Lachrymosa from his Requiem. Can’t say I agree with you about Bach, however: the Brandenburg Concertos are early, and he was (cough) younger than I am when he wrote the St. Matthew’s Passion…

…unless of course you were speaking of how he was regarded by contemporary critics?

Michael Morris November 19, 2015 - 10:01

I just want to say I’m excited to see Paul Sharits mentioned in one of these articles. Fucking genius. Wish I’d had the time to see it when I was in Austin recently.

Rainey Knudson November 19, 2015 - 13:18

The Sharits piece at the VAC really is a pleasure to see. You have until January 24!

Heather Bause November 19, 2015 - 11:21

Christina, lovely paintings and a fabulous review. I hate most abstraction right now too. Especially dumb abstraction.

The International Pop paintings you posted were refreshing – in particular, Ushio Shinohara and Wanda Pimentel’s paintings.

There are few painters, in my opinion, that should have been omitted from the Vulture zombie article; painters that have been around far too long, not dead, very much alive and producing excellent abstraction. They include Charline von Heyl and R.H. Quaytman. Though Lucien Smith, Josh Smith, Tauba and Moyer are celebrated with some controversy, Moyer’s work is beautiful and not at all made in ignorance, nor superfluous or without thought.

Kevin Parmer November 19, 2015 - 15:06

My advice to “conceptual-lite” and/or “post-skills” artists (with degrees from schools that no longer put a emphasis on formal training); keep your retail day job! Unless of course you’re living off mommy of daddy’s money; then carry on making yr clever hokey “statements,” the kids eat it up!

Kevin Parmer November 19, 2015 - 15:11

Oops; pardon the spelling/grammatical errors; damn phone and the big hands/tiny phone dilemma. It’s my new thesis.

brb November 19, 2015 - 15:19

I suppose I should go back to school and get a marketable skill like cutting paper in straight lines.

Kevin Parmer November 21, 2015 - 13:37

yes; or graphic design; otherwise keep your job at McDonalds.

tfw November 21, 2015 - 20:33

Joke’s on you, I’m unemployed!

Rainey Knudson November 20, 2015 - 07:40

There’s been some banter on FB about how bad this article is (those lazy critics!) but no real intellectual pushback. Come on, people: give us a defense of abstract painting in 2015.

(And yes, of course: there are good abstract painters working today in Texas.)

irl November 21, 2015 - 12:46

Banter? I see 6 comments, five under 152 characters, one critical of mindlessly echoing new york’s pet peeve from last year. Then, 6 shares and no additional explanation, people obviously cant be bothered to create their own post content, and 6 additional comments under 152 character for a grand total of 12 comments and no banter in sight. Pray tell, in a poster-apocalyptic landscape so bleak, why would anyone think there’s a conversation going on here?

All I see if a bunch of puffed up chests talking about the boogeyman.

So, if we take your word for it that there are good abstract painters working today in Texas, so you aren’t talking about them, and Christina isn’t talking about Pierre Krause, and Michael Bise thinks he lives in 1920’s germany because conservative christianity is JUST LIKE GETTING GASSED IN THE TRENCHES, who are we, the skeptical but engaged reader, supposed to defend?

Christina, you’re right. “Comparing the impact of the work of today’s Zombie Formalists to that of 1960s Pop Artists isn’t an obvious move.” It seems like you just tacked it on to an otherwise less than jaw dropping review because glasstire is bringing zombies back yo hip to be square.

If we as readers are to presume, in fact, specific artistic offenders lurk in our midst. If we are to believe this puff ball digital rag in Texas isn’t just parroting a 2,000 mile away already stale conversation. If we are to believe that state of western culture is in peril because of these offenders. If we are to believe they are duping the world and stealing all the monies from hard working honest 99%. If we are to believe that Trisha Baga’s real twitter handle is @krebber_kippenberger_69_hipstamatic_and_then_play_it_in_a_loop_420 THEN WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THEM BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS WHO YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT

Kevin Parmer November 21, 2015 - 13:58

Just because the “we” of Glasstire hate abstract painting right now doesn’t mean everyone should agree and bow down to the opinions that be. Art criticism is just opinions; how you choose to rate whether they are “informed” or not is simply your choice, which should be based on your own mind, not what Art Forum thinks, prominent art critics think, what the hipster kids think, etc. The concept of an “informed opinion” is rather laughable anyway. Talking about art is like looking at a Möbius strip and describing the end of it.

fbi November 21, 2015 - 20:25

My investigation is clearly about who, not what.

Who are the artists that “we hate”. Not why, not where, not when. Who, Kevin, who. Names.

Christina Rees November 21, 2015 - 16:59

I don’t know what thread you’re referring to, but that’s not the one Rainey is referring to.

nsa November 21, 2015 - 20:20


Michelle Chen-Dubose November 20, 2015 - 17:59

I’m not sure abstraction needs a defense… There are painters more engaged with expanding painting language and painters more engaged with the humanistic. I’d want for this to be the case regardless of the time. The approaches inform each other and aren’t mutually exclusive either. Images can be used to explore abstraction and abstraction used to convey experience. To lose the dialogue around abstraction from the collective painting soup would also hurt image-based painting I think. Provisional painting say, isn’t something I gravitated toward but the philosophical ideas around it can be relevant to image-based painters like myself too. I wonder whether it would be good to clarify the term zombie formalism so we’re all on the same page. My impression is people are talking about people copying Kippenberger, Krebber, some of the provisional painting maybe and not about derivative abstraction in general.

Darcy Salomon November 22, 2015 - 07:57

The ridiculous of this conversation about a methodology labeled “Zombie Abstraction” is that there is a conversation about the worth of painting at all. Truly, if one is an “artist” in the 21st century and has some idea about dealing with the world and one’s place in it, why would one smear liquid pigment – in any arrangement – onto a surface? And then there’s an expectation that people are supposed to be moved or changed by it? Really? It seems unbelievably archaic to me. Consider: one does a painting, and then takes this thing, suspends it eye-level upon another surface (this other surface being vertical and preferably white), and then others come to view it (contemplate it?), perhaps collectively within a framework called a show, and supposedly this has “meaning”? And then there’s this argument whether this smeared pigment is organized into something humans recognize or not? (Or rather, the level of recognition.) Talking about expanding the language of painting is like talking about expanding Latin. It’s worse than lost meanderings within an overly trodden consensus – it’s lazy and stupid.

Robert Boyd November 23, 2015 - 16:21

Latin has a few good years in it!

I’m torn on this. Painting isn’t a dead (or purely liturgical) language like Latin, but as far as image-making goes, it’s rearguard. But there are still lots of people painting; I live upstairs from an art store and see the tubes walking out the door every day. Painting still means something to a lot of people, including people on this blog.

But the painting that people call Zombie Abstraction seems more like an idea to me than actual paintings because I’ve never seen any. I’ve only seen jpegs. And those jpegs sure look boring!

Michelle Chen-Dubose November 23, 2015 - 18:56

Hey Robert- A painted image is a painting before it’s an image don’t you think? The kind of information/data in a painting, even as photo-realistic as a Richter, is different than the kind of information in a photograph of the same image. Paintings are experientially very different than any other mode of image-making. I wouldn’t call it rearguard. Unfortunately for some though, this experience is no more coherent than smeared liquid pigment on various surfaces, hahaha!

As far as relevance goes, I doubt painting will ever be a dead language. It’s been going on for 30-40,000 years.

Kevin Parmer November 26, 2015 - 12:42

So Darcy I assume you prefer more modern technological forms of self-expression or art making than simply making marks on a flat surface, since that is so archaic and behind the times? What is the new preferred media? sculpture (as old or older than painting), video? That’s been around far too long as well; umm, internet based art? Uhh, so late 90s, early 2000! I suppose it’s back to some sort of Fluxus revival or tired old references to Duchamp? Humor and site based installations and/or conceptual art that tries to be really deep but fails and comes off as a bad joke? I think us artist just need to have some sort of cyber plugs inserted into the back of our necks, Cronenberg style, and share thoughts in a virtual cortex based gallery; maybe that is the future. 😉

ftw November 26, 2015 - 20:36

ugh, … uh… surface, uh media, uuhhhhh sculpture.. no painting. ho uh, video… mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm internet.. fluxus, duchamp! yeah uhhh… installation — CONCEPTUAL CRONENBERG CORTEX CORTEX CORTEX

btw November 28, 2015 - 20:14

straw man

Barnaby Fitzgerald November 29, 2015 - 17:26

Thanks Darcy, very good.

seth alverson November 29, 2015 - 20:01

I’ve read a lot of really stupid things on this website, but this one maybe takes the cake.

Kathleen Barnes November 24, 2015 - 09:38

I lam currently enrolled at UC Riverside in California majoring in anthropology. I’ve returned to shcool rather late in life. my parents were both artists (painters) so I grew up around art and I think I have a pretty sophisticated background. I’ve taken art history classes. My interests are concerned with art and it relationship with the develpoment of culture. I have just recently learned of this website. I like that people other than the writers offer their opinions, although I find many of the comments to be immature.
I agree that painting is not going anywhere, but I also agree with Darcy Salomon (this must be a fictticious name – I wish that people would sign their real names) that the form of painting seems very antiquated as an art form. Developing some eye-hand-mind coordination in early art education through painting certainly has value, but if art is indeed an intellectual endeavor, then it seems that some conceptual progress beyond painting should be considered. I haven’t been stimulated by any painting in years. Pick any subject – politics, environment, gender issues – why would you paint it? Why not engage directly with those ideas through more sophisticated and complicated forms? After all, this year, is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. It is also the 100th anniversay of Duchamps’ “in Advance of a Broken Arm.” In this context, it’s hard to take painting very serioulsy, abstract or not. Latin still exists, surely, but it’s almost exclusively spoken in college or church. That should tell you something.

Sorry for my typos. this was written in a rush.

bbw November 26, 2015 - 20:31

this must be bait

Julie Speed November 29, 2015 - 12:07

……and I almost took it. Instead I will go back to painting.

Aaron Parazette November 29, 2015 - 14:33

Reading Ms. Rees essay and the comments following I was reminded of a few musings by Walter Darby Banard, one of my favorite art writers. Art will continue (painting included) and the conversation will always be thus.

from 48 years ago:

Letter to the editor
Artforum, Vol. 7
November, 1968
by Walter Darby Banard

…..There are a few things about art that art writers ought to learn.

New methods are not better than old methods. New materials and forms are not better than old materials and forms. “New Esthetics” are not better than “Old Esthetics.” New art is not better than old art. Newness is a fact, not a virtue. Nothing available to art is better than something else available to art. Nothing going into art is automatically, intrinsically, good or bad.

Nothing existing prior to the making of art can guarantee the quality of the art it enters. The use of something unusual for art is just fine. The use of old-fashioned or traditional things is just fine. The use of anything for art is just fine. Materials and forms and methods and ideas are not better or worse, they are just different. No preferable ingredient for art exists until an artist prefers it for his own art. The artist chooses what he thinks is best for his art. When he is through he has good art, bad art, or middling art. Art quality is provided by artists making art, not by externally specifiable things, processes, ideas, forms, agreements, methods, materials, connections or “esthetics.” There is no way art should be. It is what artists make it, and you either like it or not. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it always will be.

and 29 years ago Banard writes about the market concerns addressed in the GT essay and comments:

Art Glut
December 1986
by Walter Darby Banard

….Art is too popular. There is too much of it. I remember when everyone wanted to be an actor. Now everyone wants to be an artist. I read in a magazine the other day that there are 90,000 artists in New York City. 90,000! That’s more people than there are in Scranton. Probably more than there are working as cab drivers and short-order cooks in Manhattan. I don’t know where they got the number but I assume it is somehow “official.” Is it too high? Half as many would be amazing. Call it 50,000. If each of them makes just twenty works a year that’s a million works of art made in New York City each year. In ten years, ten million. Add in all the art made in other cities and art centers and the endless boondocks and you’ve got one stupendous lot of art out there….

further on:

Now, history tells us that the fashionable art of a time is never the best art of a time. It tells us that the best new art is always pushed into the background by second-rate, fashionable new art. Unless you think that history, in an uncharacteristic fit of perversity, has decided to go along with the current whims of the art business, it is the same today. If you don’t believe it go read a 1975 Artforum or a 1955 Art News. Today’s fashionable new art, like yesterday’s, is second-rate, middlebrow art. New highbrow art cannot be fashionable because there are not enough highbrows, especially rich highbrows, to make it fashionable. Besides, highbrow taste goes by what it likes. It is personal and private. It doesn’t look around to see what’s “in.” It doesn’t make fashion, except in the long run. Highbrow art must win out over time by the peculiar staying power of artistic goodness……

further on:

Overproduction, overpricing, and obsolescence are very dangerous for the visual arts. A painting is one-of-a-kind; the money spent on it is locked up in it. Works of literature, music, and film are reproduced in quantity, given a commercial run and then let go. They move in and out of fashion at little cost to the individual consumer. Architecture can get awfully silly around the edges, but a building is a building and rents get paid. A painting, on the other hand, cannot generate return. It just sits on the wall, ticking away like a taxi meter, or a time bomb, or both. If you spend $50,000 on a painting and then see an auction price of $75,000 for the artist you are pleased with your investment. If you spend that $50,000 and then hear that the artist’s reputation is fading, and quickly call Christie’s and learn that they already have three of them in the next sale at an average reserve of $8,000 you get a little green around the edges. It’s not just money, after all. It’s your reputation as a connoisseur, as a smart dude riding that “cutting edge.” It’s your status. If you got carried away and bought 10 or 12 works by this artist, and you know others who have done the same, you get real nervous. You call around to various collectors and dealers and everyone tells everyone reassuring lies. Then you go sit on the couch, light up a cigar, stare at the paintings and feel uneasy. These things are happening right now. No one has had any experience with a market like this. Not since 1929, anyway.
Ironically, it may be this very vulnerability which saves painting in the long run. Painting may be bound to seriousness by economics. The other arts can grind out fashionable schlock forever, the more the merrier. Painting, simply because of its high unit cost, can do so only at great risk and for a short time. When the crash comes a lot of money will be lost and a lot of reputations will lie twitching in the rubble. But painting, cut back to its roots of refined craft, ingenuous seriousness, uncomplicated delight, playfulness. subtlety and surprise, can rise, vital and refreshed, free from this orgy of belligerent silliness and far-out affectation, free from poisonous irony, predatory intellectualism, and the perverse abhorrence of ordinary pleasure, free from the arrogant posturing of no-talent egomaniacs.

It will be a hard lesson, but I can’t wait.

Full essay: http://www.wdbannard.org/1986-Art-Glut-70.html

jennifer hill January 26, 2016 - 12:54

Wow, Aaron, thanks for that bit of clarity.
I just can’t believe we aren’t past asking “What’s this painting hanging on the wall for? It doesn’t mean anything anymore, blah, blah, blah..” What is at the root of the question, really? Some knee-jerk impatience? Why does a person get angry enough to go on a rant?
So some people aren’t interested in painting, don’t have the time for painting, doesn’t mean painting isn’t interesting or relevant. A different medium doesn’t make something more relevant to our times.
If an artist is lucky, they do work that is consistently good. There are some grand failures out there, which is the best we can hope for.

Lee Albert Hill November 29, 2015 - 14:52

I’m an abstract painter and proud of it. I’ve been practicing and developing my craft for 15 years and have been witness to the growing clamor for new-media works. These tend to dominate current surveys of contemporary work and often overwhelm quieter forms of expression such as painting…and that’s ok. It leaves me and the rest of us painters breathing room to think.

I admit by cleaving to the values associated with the traditional medium of painting I may appear to be an anachronism. But, my work has strong classical roots and I continue to embrace modernist traditions without apology in the face of an art world atomized by pluralism and excessive amounts of money. As for Zombie Formalism I inoculate myself from it by focusing on the key principle of abstract painting:

– The creation of art that drives its power from the essence rather than the appearance of things.

– Relies on the fundamental experience of the visual rather than the narrative.

-Most important (and most lacking in Zombie Formalism)…art that retains a paramount respect for the process and craft of painting.

It’s taken me a long time and a lot of hard work to figure out how I do what I do and I won’t apologize or celebrate being victimized over why everyone thinks my craft is dead or has been turned into a horror show.

Wendy Smith November 29, 2015 - 23:32

How ridiculous it is to always give art a label. Picasso once said there is no such thing as abstract art. I would add the only thing about art that needs to be said is –lets hear it for good art. So what is good art? Art that has a new perspective, i.e. is saying something new , not tired old cliques. Art that looks right and by that I mean art that doesn’t shout out at me that some part of the piece needs more work. Its an undefinable something , in words, that is because art is a visual language and so the eyes really are the receivers of this language . I find that most people now, really are inexperienced lookers , they superficially glance at something and miss it. In the art world this seems to be especially true. There is much worshiping at the altar of the “Emperor that has no clothes”. Making art is a lifelong endeavor and an artists career should be a long and involved one. Should young artists be catapulted to early fame, I am not sure, but this notion that art is a product I find troubling . Art is always the residue.

Michael Morris November 30, 2015 - 11:18

I liked the Pollock show.

Adam Adams November 30, 2015 - 21:06

Does Glasstire offer an immersive on-line crash course in Art History?

The Art Guys December 1, 2015 - 13:32

Painting is dead! Long live painting!


islandofmind December 1, 2015 - 13:42

You cracka me up! Where do I send my 6500.00 bucks?

joelsampson December 1, 2015 - 23:36

I hate to pick at nits — but Abstract or Non-objective? There is a difference.

Charles T Jones July 28, 2019 - 16:52

Yes, are we talking non-objective art or merely art that has been abstracted and is not realistic? A lot of folks seem to confuse the two. As far as I’m concerned, Abstract Expressionism, as it was named, probably by some art writer or curator, in the 50’s has run its course. There’s a lot of ‘new’ non-objective paintings that miss the mark by a mile. The mark? Are they visual interesting ? Do they, like the mood rings of old, change as the viewer’s perception or mood changes? (There are some that would go with your sofa and last about as long though.) An artist should pull his or her work from a personal place, not merely imitate or emulate the work of others, past or present. Just my two-bits worth.


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