Sunday, January 13, 2008

Art and Commerce: Kant & Re-Kant

It would be difficult to identify a more thoughtful and attentive blogger for general audiences in the realm of popular images than David Apatoff, who writes Illustration Art. If you do not read it, I recommend it heartily. Apatoff writes well about images—a difficult thing to do—and provides fascinating “backstory” material about commercial work and the people who make it. I’m frankly not very good about posting links, but Illustration Art is impossible to ignore, and thus it appears to your right.

Recently David wrote a cheeky/cranky post called A Holiday Quest for Mitigation, in which he invited readers to coax him to abandon his position that much of the Museum of Modern Art’s drawing collection (viewable online) is “unmitigated crap.” He posted provocative examples to defend his stance, including an Ed Ruscha drawing.

I wrote a comment on this thread, chiding Mr. Apatoff for his over-the-top diction. It reads, in part:

[It is regrettable that you use] language like "unmitigated crap." Part of the reason that illustration has yet to find its place in serious writing and thinking about visual images is that its proponents often suffer from a crusty form of anti-modernism which is beneath you… Illustrators, by and large, are engaged in a different cultural activity, which is why museums like MOMA do not collect them. One can be diffident in the face of these things, even irritated, but harrumphings of the sort you have dumped on your readers here play to their biases and lower the standard of discussion, which you have done so much to elevate.

David responded thoroughly, thoughtfully, and gamely, as I would have expected:

It seems to me the central dilemma of judging art in our era is how to balance open mindedness, tolerance and respect for different tastes on the one hand against vacuity and total lack of standards on the other. Both extremes are essential; if you forsake either charybdis or scylla, your taste and judgment (and even your enjoyment of art) will suffer…

Nice image!

Apatoff continues:

People have been schooled to believe that all art is valid, and besides a sensitive person wouldn't say things such as "unmitigated crap." You might legitimately add that such terms will be counter productive because I am more likely to be dismissed as a "crusty anti-modernist." That is why every once in a while I try to remind people that I like Christo, Beuys and a host of other more avant garde artists.

I think that at this particular moment in the history of art in this country, the greater danger is from permissiveness rather than from intolerance. You would probably agree that the vast majority of money, fame, headlines, museum space, academic attention and respect all go to contemporary abstract and avant garde art, as opposed to illustration, commercial art, comic art or other pictures tainted by capitalism and traditional skills.

Note the regrettable flourish of “pictures tainted by capitalism and traditional skills,” which does not add to the argument, and in fact calls attention to the uncharacteristically sour spirit of the preceding list: money, fame, respect, which “all go” to x. More significantly, David makes the following point:

We would probably disagree over whether museums ignore illustration because it is a "different cultural activity." After all, museums reach out to embrace the different cultural activity of graffiti artists, Polynesian craftsmen, the mentally ill, children, outsider artists, and computers. Apparently the only cultural activity that is too "different" to tolerate is art in the service of commerce. I view that as more an act of hubris than taste or principle. In the face of such an art establishment, it is difficult for even a judgmental lad like myself to feel guilty of intolerance.

Agreed: this is a vexatious reality. And it does cause otherwise temperate folks to blow their stacks. For some reason and for many people, visual art provokes frustration, anger and even a sense of personal affront. Bad movies and novels are just that: things that people set aside or simply avoid. Visual art, by contrast, seems to really rile people, leading to the sort of exaggeration that launched the exchange I’ve been recounting.

For example, such diatribes often cite the obvious “total lack of standards” in contemporary art, when of course there must be standards of some sort. That is, the sum total of artists who wish to display their works in rarefied locales exceeds the total number of opportunities; ergo, some fail. Standards or criteria of some sort are in play, because the curators must have a methodology of yes and no. The formalist or communicative criteria that many viewers would assume to be in play may count for less in the academic culture of the museum and kunstalle; instead, the intellectual heritage of the avant-garde often places more importance on the cultural positioning of the work (e.g., its bourgeoise-tweaking potential) than its intrinsic qualities. The ultimate problem is not a lack of criteria, but disagreement about which criteria ought to be in play.

But David’s implicit question stands. Why is it that art museums as traditionally defined eschew illustration and commercial art forms? (MoMA does in fact have a design department, but it does not collect illustration qua illustration, but rather as a pictorial component of design, as in, say, a Vienna Secession poster.) The answer is complicated, and involves a set of ideas and cultural practices which are 150 to 200 years old, but not older. I don’t think the reason is hubris; I think it’s a philosophical distinction that few people are really aware of, even those who reason on the basis of such distinctions all the time.

For the record, I would like to state that I do think that commercial or purposive image-making is a different cultural activity. I have arrived at this conclusion after long observation and reflection. It is the best explanation for the gigantic blind spot David rightly decries.

I have written about this distinction recently, in my contribution to the catalogue for Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women’s Magazine, 1940-1960.

I am working on a longer form exploration of this. For now permit me to quote my Parker essay at some length:
Al Parker rose to the height of his profession in the war years and after. During the 1940s and 50s, until television began to supplant magazines as the dominant medium, Parker brought in an average of $10,000 a month, typically earned on three to four assignments. He enjoyed the status of a celebrity among the public, and was rightly regarded as a tireless visual innovator by his peers. How should it be then that Parker is virtually unknown today? Certainly history is replete with celebrated figures justifiably demoted by later opinion. To be sure, the romantic Westport School illustrators were widely loathed by the expressionist Manhattan-based visual essayists, led by Robert Weaver, who eclipsed them starting in the late 50s. As Marshall Arisman has admitted, “We all considered Al Parker the enemy.” And Weaver, et al., while presiding, through no fault of their own, over the near-death of the American periodical illustration market during the decades after 1960, set the critical terms for thinking about the discipline during the same period. Parker was relegated to old-boy status. Yet recent academic engagement with mid-century popular culture and increased recognition of Parker’s achievement by contemporary illustrators have improved his standing.

That said, don’t expect to run across Al Parker in accounts of American art history. The most dogged booster of his achievements could not manage such a trick. In fact, it is possible to compile a long list of important artists and works from commercial culture which do not appear in standard art history texts. But it is always a mistake to do so. The terms of exclusion tend to be institutional, and no amount of jumping and arm-waving will overcome them. Besides, there is a much more interesting approach, which takes the alleged deficiencies of popular images and turns them to analytical advantage for purposes of reflection.

The intellectual foundations of the modern conception of art grow from Kantian aesthetics. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued in The Critique of Judgment (1790) that the experience of the beautiful is a disinterested one—that an art experience can be identified as an art experience because nothing is at stake beyond the aesthetic pleasure of the moment and the resulting cultivation of taste and refinement. That is, art experiences aren’t for anything. And the objects that provide the ground for aesthetic judgments must not betray “an end.”

Kant writes, “Beauty is the form of the purposiveness of an object, insofar as it is perceived in it without representation of end.” Purposiveness refers to the intentional forming of an object, representation of an end to a visible function. Kant offers the following amplification in a footnote:

There are things which in which one can see a purposive form without cognizing an end in them, e.g., the stone utensils often excavated from ancient burial mounds, which are equipped with a hole, as if for a handle. . . . They clearly betray by their shape a purposiveness the end of which one does not know. . .one relates their shape. . .to a determinate purpose. Hence. . .[they provide] no immediate satisfaction at all. ( Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, edited by Paul Guyer. Translated by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews. Cambridge University Press, London, 2000. “Analytic of the Beautiful,” No. 17, “On the ideal of beauty.” p. 120.)

Kant’s utensils cannot be beautiful because they are useful. The exclusion is categorical and immediate.

This brings us back to images that appear and—crucially—function in the popular sphere. Illustration in particular is unruly and difficult to organize. It’s ephemeral. Since such images are created for “purposive ends” they cannot claim the status of philosophy or the pursuit of first principles. They tend to attract fans, as opposed to critics. For lack of meaningful interpretive stakes and few institutional or curatorial contexts, serious thinkers have tended to disdain the field. This is especially true of periodical illustration. The best writers—most notably Steven Heller—have provided thoughtful chronicles. Yet theoretical approaches have been few. In sum: high cultural precedent, awkwardness, snobbery, and ubiquity—the stuff is everywhere, after all—have stunted reflection on these works that have played a significant cultural role in our society.

In fact, the intermittent high cultural engagement with figures from the world of illustration—Norman Rockwell, to cite the best example—often only makes things worse by creating a sense of exemption. Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers may be philosophically inadmissible, but they transcend their category. But the category ought to command our attention, because it provides the terms of the cultural exchange, between the producer(s) and the audience. We are better off engaging the subject of mid-century mass market magazines before rhapsodizing or carping about the merits of Rockwell, because the loss of context minimizes the meaning of the original experience and, ultimately, the achievement itself…

[The question of ] pictorial function…gets to the heart of commercial image-making, the broader world in which Al Parker operated. Consider that commissioned images in the public sphere are, contra Kant, fundamentally concerned with performing a task. Editorial cartoons, animated films, magazine illustrations, encyclopedia figures, comic strips, illustrated packages, boxes of flash cards—they all must earn their way into the commercial sphere by satisfying the needs of their users and sponsors.

I would submit that all commercial pictures must perform at least one of four functions: to inform, to persuade, to entertain, and/or to activate, or decorate. (Activate is a good modernist word, insofar as it suggests the intentional creation of visual interest, which is both broader and more self-aware than the idea of decorating something.)
What follows is more academic and might strain the patience of the general reader, so I’ll spare you. But suffice to say for now that function does matter. The categorical exclusion of works from the commercial tradition can be traced to the modern conception of art itself, revealed by the antiseptic white boxes in which it is presented—contamination by purpose is a distraction at best. That’s not the whole story, but it’s a decent chunk of it, as least as it applies to habits of mind in the high culture industry. Better to step around than to flail against.

Images: Lyonel Feininger, Five Figures, 1906 (courtesy of MOMA online; this image did not appear on the Illustration Art post referenced above); James Gillray, Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis, or The Vessel of the Constitution steered clear of the Rock of Democracy, and the Whirlpool of Arbitrary Power, 1793; Elzie Crisler Segar, Popeye and Barnacle Bill reaquaint themselves, Thimble Theatre, December 3, 1933; Jupiter information graphic, courtesy of Graphic Tales in-house staff, 2008; Al Parker, cover, Ladies Home Journal, December 1944; John Chapman, engraving, Immanuel Kant, date not available; Jim Flora, cover illustration, Research & Engineering, January 1956.


David Apatoff said...

DB, I was delighted to see you taking up these issues on your excellent blog, and flattered to see that my own huffing and puffing was one of the catalysts. I am always educated by what you write, and I could really use some education here.

As usual, Elzie Segar said it best. Your picture of Popeye and Barnacle Bill bonking their heads together perfectly sums up the debate in this area. Partisans launch airy persiflage with trebuchets and mangonels, but ultimately nothing in art can be proven and nobody persuades anybody.

On my own blog, I am fond of quoting William Blake's aphorism, "When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do." I don't expect to convert the curators at MOMA with my little musings, but one can only read so many tiresome PhD theses by art graduate students spouting off about hermeneutics and Foucault before you say, "yes, I will bonk my head against this, and suffer damage to my cranium with no hope of persuading anyone, just so that legitimate and hard working artists don't go undefended against smug and ignorant people."

I appreciate your thoughtful analysis, and I agree with your conclusion that "function does matter." Function is probably a more useful organizational device for parsing these issues than many. But I want to engage with you on exactly how function matters.

You write, "I would submit that all commercial pictures must perform at least one of four functions: to inform, to persuade, to entertain, and/or to activate, or decorate." That's probably true, but these same four functions are also central to the best art over the past 35,000 years-- from cave paintings that were used to increase luck in the hunt or obtain the protection of the gods, to Renaissance painting commissioned by the church for decorating sacred spaces and inspiring audiences, to military art designed to embolden warriors and frighten their enemies, our greatest art has had the same functions you attribute to "commercial pictures." Perhaps this is why you suggest that the disdain for function is peculiar to "the modern conception of art."

The current art establishment doesn't seem averse to displaying (and even worshipping) this historically functional art, despite its "contamination by purpose." To me, this seems fundamentally inconsistent (or perhaps just plain dishonest). It also opens Pandora's box. In this world you describe, an art object can never stand alone. Two identical objects can be either good art or bad, depending on the purity of the artist's purpose. (This is what makes a Roy Lichtenstein "good," while the original comic panel is "bad.") What happens, then, if we don't know the artist's real intent? And if we think we do know the artist's intent, how much of it do we know? Is a work of art better if we have have just read a fawning article about it in the New Yorker, than if we read a capsule description on a museum wall? And then you are off down the slippery slope of how much of the "quality" of a work of art derives from the object, and how much derives from the spin of press agents and professional flacks.

Another problem with arguing that the aesthetic quality of a physical object can be determined by its purpose: can any work of art, no matter how visually garish, be redeemd by an intellectually pure intent? How sincere does that intent have to be? And how do we measure? My own view is that the epithet "commercial" is not very useful for identifying quality in art. Many mediocre pictures of human suffering hang in art museums. Many brilliant pictures of dishwashing detergent can be found in magazine ads. Nobody has yet established (to my satisfaction) a clear connection between purity of motive and quality of picture. Anyone who tries to do so will be back on that slippery slope.

I have survived on slippery slopes before, and I might be willing to do it again in this case were it not for what I would consider to be the elephant in the middle of the room: the fact that "purposeless" art, which started out as a wonderful torrent of creativity and stimulating experimentation, has (for the most part) turned into thousands of anemic and self-obssessed rivlets of quasi-art. Where is my incentive to struggle with a slippery slope for such a thin reward?

I have only begun to scratch the surface of your thoughtful commentary, but I am at the office and have to turn my attention back to other matters. Also, I feel a little denuded since I can't attach images with my response, so I am left without examples. But I look forward to continuing this discussion.

DB Dowd said...

David, I appreciate that you are willing to kick the can down the alley a little more. I am pleased to have the company.

Two quick thoughts as the conversatin advances. One, I think you may have conflated function and intent, which seem like the same thing but are not. When I use the term function or purpose (and even these terms are not strictly speaking synonyms) I mean the work performed by the thing. The examples you cite from premodern art are excellent--magic for the hunt, pictures to complement the liturgy--and are functional in the ways you describe.

When an altarpiece is removed from its church and placed in a museum, the function of the object has been set aside.

Consider: when you go to a science museum or a history museum, you have an expectation that you will know more at the end than you did at the beginning. That is, the exhibitry aspires to deliver an experience which, significantly, imparts knowledge.

Art museums do not aspire to impart knowledge. They are about connoisseurship, or the reflective experience of the excellently made thing. This--the cultivation of taste, the contemplative exercise of judgment, critically beyond the reach of material interest--is the legacy of Kant. So we regard the traditional object (say, an altarpiece) as a beautiful thing, not a useful one, despite its origins in liturgical magic--not so unlike the bison on cave walls.

Two, you write, disbelievingly I think, that I have argued a case in which a "work of art can never stand alone." I do in fact believe this, because art objects, like automobiles and telephone books, are cultural artifacts. They do not occur in nature. Thus their existence is historically and culturally contingent. This is true of Baroque portraiture, prehistoric American Indian tobacco pipes, and Golden Age comic books. I like the cultural aspects of these things; I want to know about them. But I also am perfectly happy to indulge their aestheticization, because I am a connoisseur, too. But the aestheticization is always vulnerable to charges of dreaminess or worse, the former a known enemy of vital cultural criticism.

Lichtenstein provides a good example of a blue chip career plagued by self-plagiarism: not a special case in that generation, but also an interesting subject for a comparative case study. I'll get busy on that... (His early brushstroke paintings were brilliant in their moment, but he stalled out in easy camp.)

More soon.

Josh (musarter) said...

I enjoy both you and david apatoff's long winded comments; you both are very convincing. I can see both points of view but I tend to gravitate towards david apatoff's point of view; It is probably because I am an illustrator, of sorts, and I tend to see my work as art.

What you are starting to make me understand is that your definition of art, the modern fine art definition, is based on utlility, function and cultural relevance. Based on your defintion if I make a drawing for a t-shirt to advertise a company or contrive a photoshoot to promote a company it is not really art. If I draw a picture of a tree that is relevant to me, as an artist, but not necessarily anyone else, it is still not necessarily art. But if I somehow make that tree culturaly relevant than it could be approaching what you refer as art.

It seems to me that to be a modern fine artist it would be easy to jump on a wave of what is considered culturaly relevant, at a given time, and to make that kind of art.

It seems to me, and many others such as David A, that modern fine art has been in a era where standards have been crushed for too long. Dada art was a movement that made a good and valid statement in it's time but do we really need to see slightly scewed versions of this same concept over and over again. To me the original Dadaists art had utility, function (artistic statement), and relevance. A lot of the newer variations seem to lack at least one of these standards. I think most people want to see art that at least meets one of the following standards: something that is thought provoking or intellectually stimulating, something beautiful, something awe inspiring, something that has historical relevance, or something with a new and/or has an unique approach.

Forgive me for my naive approach on the subject, I am just trying to understand the modern fine art thought process in this area. I'm sure there is an explanation I have not come across yet. If you would, let me know if I am approaching an understanding of the modern fine art thought process.

David Apatoff said...

DB, you say that "Art museums do not aspire to impart knowledge. They are about connoisseurship, or the reflective experience of the excellently made thing." It sounds like (as a good student of Kant) you may be searching for a categorical imperative for the mission of a museum, but I am not sure this is it. Don't plenty of museums impart knowledge by explaining the historical context or cultural significance of an artwork (for example, explaining religious iconography or translating hieroglyphs)? And even without the museum's background information, doesn't all art impart knowledge, at least implicitly?

More importantly, who wants art that doesn't impart some kind of knowledge?

Perhaps Descartes is a more useful analogy here than Kant. I would say that art in the 20th century went through that basic Cartesian epistemological and ontological self scrutiny-- just as Descartes asked how we can know anything, artists put aside the content of art and questioned the basic tools of perception, the fundamental abstract components which previous generations took for granted in conveying a message or perform a function. I think that de-definition of art was a very valid and important process. It makes us humble and causes us to appreciate the limits of our little perceptual cocoon.

But anyone who has ever sat in a college dorm room late at night discussing the implications of Descartes knows that Descartes gets mighty tiresome after those first few exciting hours. "Yeah, I get it, 'I think therefore I am,' there is no certainty and no way out. Now can we get back to planet earth?"

Contemporary "fine" art feels like the 17th hour of that dorm room discussion. It's not that contemporary art isn't "true," or that functional or purposive art doesn't have conceptual flaws; it's just that most adults I know who are worth hanging around with have decided to get on with life.

David Apatoff said...

Josh, I had to laugh at your reference to our "long winded" comments. You are absolutely right. You get started down this path and it's hard to shut up!

DB Dowd said...

David, it is true of course that those little contextual labels next to the artworks in a museum are informative (especially if the work is from a distant time or place) but this does not refute my basic argument, which is that art museums do not fundamentally aspire to impart knowledge. People go to art museums to feel things, not to learn them. Indeed, art and artists occupy the epistemological cheap seats of the academy; they don't really earn admission on the basis of knowledge. Rather, art addresses issues of ontology, or being. Your recent post on Remington and color provides an excellent example: Remington captured something of an experience that we recognize--being outside at twilight--by smearing some paint on a board. We revel in the sense of atmosphere and thrill to recognition. But what knowledge do we gain from looking at these images? We don't know anything more about the function of rods and cones in our eyes as a result; we don't learn anything about the atmospherics of color perception in low light; we don't know anything about the people in the picture; we learn nothing about the geography of the location, etc., etc. As our steadfast digital curator, you posted Remington's pictures because you wanted to call our attention to their evocative power. That's it. That's what they are good for.

Now, if they are assigned a function in a commercial context--induce me to read the story in the magazine that includes this scene--that changes the cultural equation, and gives us more to push against. But in the form we encounter them, on your blog, they are art on the wall, so to speak.

These are not yes/no all-or-nothing questions. But we can certainly explicate primary or decisive distinctions between different cultural experiences or contexts or artifacts. We are not disabled by nuance. Quite the contrary, if we wish to shed light--as opposed to muddying things.

So yes, we might learn something from an art experience, but that's not why we show up or why we come back.

DB Dowd said...

Josh, I would like to address your question about this whole art thing. If possible, try to set aside your sense of yourself as a partisan--as one who has something to lose. My musings on the question of purposive images are nothing more than a bit of commonsense applied to pictures that are asked to do work in the world. For example: the pictures in a child's alphabet book are placed there to reinforce the identification of the letter and the sound. B is for Ball. The picture of the ball does a job. It might be a really great picture of a ball. It might be the best picture of a ball anybody has ever made, but its attributes--that it is blue ball, that it is a really great ball--are significant insofar as they support its purpose.

You cite Dada. Dada was an aesthetic revolt, a overturning of the criteria associated with academic or institutional art, to match the overturning of criteria associated with institutional life itself, which had brought Europe WWI. Dada had an editorial edge, to be sure, but I don't think it makes sense to put Dada manifestoes in the same category of the picture of the ball in the alphabet book.

I would say that Dada is art: it claims the status of an important idea, an overarching idea, not Beauty this time, but maybe a certain sort of Truth. (Recall Keats and the Grecian Urn: Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty...)

The alphabet book illustration is not art in the philosophical sense of the term. Again in the view of Kant, Art does not have a purpose. Illustrations do have a purpose. Ergo, illustrations in children's books are not Art.

From my perspective, this puts illustration in a better, more interesting spot, because it becomes more integrated into a wider understanding of culture itself, but does not foreclose the enjoyment and reflection upon the aesthetic qualities of illustration. Of course there are many who disagree with me...

Josh (musarter) said...

Thank you for the clarification. I think I am beggining to wrap my mind around this. It sounds like what this breaks down into is Kant's view; Art does not have a purpose. Illustrations do have a purpose.

This thought process leads to art having no reason. So why produce art if there is no reason to. EPIPHANY, maybe that is why I am an illustrator.

DB Dowd said...


Jaleen Grove said...

Uh oh, here we go again!

I've already stated my position here in the past - that I believe the categories Art and Illustration are NOT mutually exclusive, but contextual - so I won't go over it again.

Two points:

1) The function/purpose/criteria of "fine art" is intentionally obscured in order to protect its status. There is an entirely commercial game at play in the so-called non-commercial-art-world. Once again, read your Pierre Bourdieu.

2) Just a suggestion about that Kant quote: I understand it to mean that the object cannot give satisfaction because there is a part missing, not that it is unworthy because it is functional. But perhaps one needs to read the whole thing. Certainly it was fashionable to pooh-pooh the "mere" tradesmen artists in the 18th century. Actually, that snobbism goes back to the Renaissance...

Dude Can't Draw said...

Resisting my usual urge to be long-winded...

You will never convince me that Mary Blair was not an artist.

I'd agree that a large percentage of utilitarian illustration is not particularly artistic, however that's a function of what the illustrator puts into it, it is not an inherent attribute of illustration. It perhaps sets up a larger hurdle to overcome and cross that threshold into what might be termed "Capital 'A' Art", but it does not outright disqualify it.

The afore mentioned Blair is a prime example. Her illustrations of Alice in Wonderland stand tall as Art. Every page of Clive Barker's children's series, The Abarat is a stunning piece of art (illustrated himself).

As a final note, who says that recognizing an emotional connection isn't a learning experience? I think it's pretty limiting to confine "learning" to trivia and pure fact. Art helps us learn the concepts of shared human experience. We learn, as closely as possible, what it's like to see the world through others' eyes. These are just as valid lessons to learn as what temperature water boils at.

(okay, so maybe I didn't avoid the long-winded thing).

mahendra singh said...

Sorry I'm late but I must get this off my chest. After many years in the publication business I know why there is such an academic and professional dichotomy between "fine art" and "illustration".

Classifying the latter as a craft ultimately allows studio employers & buyers to keep prices comparatively lower on purchases of illos. Also, it allows universities, etc., to charge students more, for teaching less.

Ultimately, it goes back to the demise of the old guild system, where talent was nurtured and then tested by one's peers, not by academia. Artists tended to control prices better en masse and also collectively weeded out their fraternal rubbish.

Just venting, I guess.

Dude Can't Draw said...

A guild system is an unmaintainable model. Production and teaching of art is simply not a controllable commodity. Art will exist outside of any sort of closed community, there's nothing to prevent it.

The more I think about it, the more I'm finding myself straddling the fence.

I do think there are compelling reasons to draw the distinction between "purposive art" and "art for art's sake" in the general case. But it's more about contextual impact than some innate property that art created for a purpose takes on. The further removed from the time and place of its purpose, the more commercial art has in common with "regular" art.

So while there is a reluctance to include contemporary commercial art in museum contexts, it's very common to find commercial art of previous eras in museums. You don't have to look further than Eames furniture to see that. When commercial, purposive art contains something that transcends its purpose, it will get recognized.

But I wouldn't deny that there's a tendency toward bias against it in the museum world. It's an easy-to-dismiss category. The vast majority is pretty devoid of the kind of artistic value that matters for a museum collection, so why bother paying attention to it, right? It's unfortunate.

Of course, as a counterpoint to all of this, Boston's ICA had a wonderful exhibit on commercial design with entirely contemporary commercial art and design. MOMA as well. Or, turning to the illustrative world, Takeshi Murakami is enjoying great museum success as an illustrator, making VERY commercial product.

See, on the fence. I know this is all rather muddled, I'm kinda letting my brain run on this one. As usual for me, it comes back to my position that firm dividing lines between "art" and "not art" are difficult, if not illogical, to draw.

mukesh said...
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