May 3, 2008

The Painted Word

From an art exhibit review in the New York Times by Roberta Smith:

Art is long, art criticism is often very, very brief, its Internet afterlife notwithstanding. Its viability relies on a mixture of prose style, sound-bite concepts, timing and its ability to clarify visual experience. Naming a major art movement can also help embed a critic in a period’s cultural achievement or its mythology.

Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg met many of these requirements, especially the myth part. Tenacious Jewish intellectuals formed by the leftist ferment of New York between the world wars, both entered the 1940s as lapsing Marxists drawn to culture and especially the new painting they saw emerging around them. In the late 1940s and ’50s they were Abstract Expressionism’s most prominent champions, defining its leaders, principles and achievements, often in diametric opposition to each other. Mounting mutual dislike was their bond.

Rosenberg and Greenberg are reunited in “Action/Abstraction: Pollock, De Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976,” a fast-moving exhibition at the Jewish Museum. Their names aren’t on the marquee, but their rivalry provides the structure for this exceedingly handsome if somewhat peripatetic show.

Tom Wolfe must be very happy because even though the review doesn't mention his name, this exhibit illustrates his short and very funny 1975 book The Painted Word, which concentrated not on the famous painters of the post-war era, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Jasper Johns, but on the critics who composed the theories behind them: Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, and Leo Steinberg, respectively:

As for the paintings --de gustibus non disputandum est. But the theories, I insist, were beautiful. ... I am willing ... to predict that in the year 2000, when the Metropolitan or the Museum of Modern Art puts on the great retrospective exhibition of American Art 1945-75, the three artists who will be featured, the three seminal figures of the era, will not be Pollock, de Kooning, and Johns -- but Greenberg, Rosenberg, and Steinberg. Up on the walls will be huge copy blocks, eight and a half by eleven feet each, presenting the protean passages of the period ... a little "fuliginous flatness" here ... a little "action painting" there ... and some of that "all great art is about art" just beyond. Besides will be small reproductions of the work of leading illustrators of the Word from that period ...

Not surprisingly, the famous painters tended to be gentile, while the famous critics tended to be Jewish, as the different distributions of visual and verbal intelligence would predict.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Greenberg's enthusiasm for the non-represenational art was probably somehow (consciously or unconsciously) a reaction to the heroic Statist/fascist (but not confined to Fascist states) art of the day. That fascistic art always glorified physical or athletic perfection and so on, which grates against the much hyped meme that Jews were not beautiful. (Whether that meme is accurate or not is another question entirely - the two hands down most beautiful women I have known in my life are both Jewish).

The Nazi campaign against Jewish and Slavic "untermenschen" was hyped around the impression that Jews and Slavs were ugly, poor, dirty, and hence contemptible and worthy of abuse and enslavement or even extermination. That is, Nazism was a supremely aesthetic political movement with little intellectual substance. Hitler's movement was "sold" by the very powerful use of imagery.

So how to react against that? Make art that is not about ideals of physical beauty, but de-values those ideals and seeks to find the "disembodied eye" (Greenberg's phrase). Make art that is anti-art.

Anonymous said...

"Not surprisingly, the famous painters tended to be gentile, while the famous critics tended to be Jewish, as the different distributions of visual and verbal intelligence would predict."

Actually, no.

By this logic "the different distributions of visual and verbal intelligence" should predict that Jews are the great poets and writers, while gentiles should lag badly as they do in the field of art criticism.

The reality is that ethnically motivated Jews are targeting the niche of art criticism in society as a means of deconstructing the culture.

The position of art critic is another key choke point in the battle for control in the Jewish-led Culture War on traditional Western Civilization and Christian America.

whiskey_199 said...

There could also be cultural and economic barriers putting Jews and Gentiles into critic/artist boxes. It would seem that the effects would be far stronger than any distribution of spatial/verbal intelligence.

For example, painters need patrons or independent incomes to sustain them particularly early in their career when they don't make money for long stretches. This implies a strong and wealthy social network able to support an artist, in either down periods of relative unpopularity or getting started.

By contrast, it's likely that critics did many other things in a social network needing writers. Able to churn out endless copy to fill up space. A critic might also double as a reporter, food reviewer, editorial writer, and so on. This implies a widespread social network eager for lots of text. A very different kind of network than the Artists.

Anonymous said...

know where you're coming from, but: abstract artworks = visual intelligence is tenuous at best. As for verbal intelligence, asinine post-mod gobbledy-gook is shrewd like a confidence racket, at best. YMMV

Anonymous said...

"Greenberg's enthusiasm for the non-represenational art was probably somehow (consciously or unconsciously) a reaction to the heroic Statist/fascist (but not confined to Fascist states) art of the day. That fascistic art always glorified physical or athletic perfection and so on..."

Eh, but Zionist art and photography drew on a similar iconography: glorifying the tanned, athletic Zionist pioneers, etc.

"The position of art critic is another key choke point in the battle for control in the Jewish-led Culture War on traditional Western Civilization and Christian America."

Art critic = "key choke point"? Are you serious? And didn't Sailer just explain to us last week that the move from representational art to abstract art was driven by artists' fear of being supplanted by photography?

- Fred

Anonymous said...

"Eh, but Zionist art and photography drew on a similar iconography: glorifying the tanned, athletic Zionist pioneers, etc."

Right, a lot of Zionism was directly inspired by European nationalist ideas, including proto-Fascist and anti-Semitic ideas. Big example: Max Nordau's ideas internalized the anti-Semitic claim that "Jews are corrupted and weak city people" and sought to create a hardened "muscular Jew" who was rooted in the land as a farmer and able to physically defend himself/herself. And succeeded.

That difference in response is why today, Jewish Israelis are very different from Jewish New Yorkers! It's the difference between Seinfeld and Zohan.

By the way, Max Nordau also wrote a major work on "Degeneration" in European society, by the way, including "degenerate art."

manindarkhat said...

Not surprisingly, the famous painters tended to be gentile, while the famous critics tended to be Jewish, as the different distributions of visual and verbal intelligence would predict.

Chomsky is a good example of Jewish verbal intelligence: he can absorb and emit words at very high rates. But you don't go to him for pleasurable reading or profound insights. Spinning word-webs is the Jewish speciality, as you'd expect from their middle-man history.

Anonymous said...

Double Standard: NYT Sides with Muslims, but "Piss Christ" Foes Were Compared to Nazis

Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” consistied of a crucifix submerged in a tank of Serrano’s urine. Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary” showed the icon clotted with elephant dung and surrounded by pornographic cut-outs.

On October 2, 1999, the editors dealt with Christian offense in a single clause, before calling for art that “challenge[d] the public”:

“To be sure, many citizens of conscience find parts of the Brooklyn exhibition repugnant, and it is understandable that many Roman Catholics would find Chris Ofili's image of the Virgin Mary offensive. Others would agree with our colleague William Safire that while the Brooklyn Museum has a right to show what it likes, the administrators have been clumsy or needlessly provocative. Yet a Daily News poll shows that the majority of New Yorkers support the museum over Mayor Giuliani by a ratio of two to one. Those numbers show a broad-based support for New York's role as the nation's cultural capital. The people understand intuitively what Mr. Giuliani ignores for political gain. A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it, or else the museum becomes a chamber of attractive ghosts, an institution completely disconnected from art in our time.”

Let's take the same sort of vile artistic license with the Star of David. And the Islamic Crescent. Let's see then if "A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it..."

Yes, Fred, there is a Culture War.

Anonymous said...

"By this logic 'the different distributions of visual and verbal intelligence' should predict that Jews are the great poets and writers, while gentiles should lag badly as they do in the field of art criticism."


I'd say the three best American novelists of the post-war era are Cormac McCarthy, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.


Currently we have Lethem, Foer, Chabon, etc. as well as Keith Gessen's crew of critics.


I don't think anyone familiar with literature would argue Jews aren't extremely well represented.

Anonymous said...

"Right, a lot of Zionism was directly inspired by European nationalist ideas, including proto-Fascist and anti-Semitic ideas"

Proto-fascist, yes; anti-Semitic, no. There was nothing inherently anti-Semitic about fascism, and early Zionists and proto-Zionists often romanticized Arabs (they considered them "Jews with horses") as part of their own 'authentic' Semitic roots.

"That difference in response is why today, Jewish Israelis are very different from Jewish New Yorkers! It's the difference between Seinfeld and Zohan."

This may overstate the case. There has been some cross-pollination: there is a non-trivial number of Israelis living in New York and vice-versa. Also, every Jewish New Yorker isn't Seinfeld: there are Jewish cops, firefighters, etc. And every Israeli isn't a shovel- and rifle-toting pioneer anymore. Israel has its nerds too: scientists, entrepreneurs, etc. Nerds like the folks behind Syneron (which I just bought a few sharesw of stock in), and hundreds of other companies.

- Fred

Anonymous said...

As for verbal intelligence, asinine post-mod gobbledy-gook is shrewd like a confidence racket

It's all part of the nascent cognitive age, don't you know.

Anonymous said...

"Currently we have Lethem, Foer, Chabon, etc. as well as Keith Gessen's crew of critics."

Foer is a well-connected fraud (Joyce Carol Oates was his literature professor at Princeton; his brother is a well-established D.C. writer, etc.). Chabon is talented. There are some great WASP writers today too: Richard Powers, Jonathan Franzen, etc.

- Fred

Anonymous said...

::Chomsky is a good example of Jewish verbal intelligence: he can absorb and emit words at very high rates. But you don't go to him for pleasurable reading or profound insights. Spinning word-webs is the Jewish speciality, as you'd expect from their middle-man history.::

"Middle-man" history? What a lazy tag. Sheer racist smear and the lazy caste thinking real pre-PC intellectuals were merrily blowing out of the water. Noam Chomsky's extremely intelligent, with critiquable pacifist assumptions. Antagonistic foreign policy now more than ever shown to be ultimately stupid and useless and due for totally turning into a museum-piece. Chomsky documents lunatic the violent American foreign policy that's never had a demonstrable effect on anything, perpetrated by ignorant government bureaucrat idiots. In 300 years he'll look like one of the sane guys talking: "these people are insane." He leaves a lot out, I'd like to debate him, but I respect him.

::Let's take the same sort of vile artistic license with the Star of David. And the Islamic Crescent. Let's see then if "A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it..."::

OH! VILE! Do your little nascent growing breasts and nipply nubs and protruding clitoris hurt when you contemplate such "vile" desecration!? OH! Making the pitiful little moralistic mental organs of imbeciles twitch, scream and holler, while they helplessly mentally grope, is just hilarious and good fun.

I enjoy torturing people with the truth, out of fetishistic sadism. I love it. You can't stop me. I guess you can stop the drop of eleven-Bud-Lights piss the US government spills into the NEA, but who cares? It was a demagogue show from the start. Demagogues aim for the twitch-switches on the herd of cows, that get them unable to not moo pitifully, begging for the headache to stop.

Anyway, eff you anti-semites.

Anonymous said...

"But you don't go to him for pleasurable reading or profound insights."


You don't. But the leading scientists and philosophers in the world do. Chomsky is one of the 10 most important thinkers of the last 500 years.

Martin said...

"Anonymous said...

You don't. But the leading scientists and philosophers in the world do. Chomsky is one of the 10 most important thinkers of the last 500 years."

1.) Luther
2.) Newton
3.) Smith
4.) Gibbon
5.) Madison
6.) Rousseau
7.) Marx
8.) Darwin
9.) Maxwell
10.) Einstein
11.) Schroedinger
12.) Dirac
13.) Gramsci

Chomsky doesn't even make the list. Doesn't even come close. I have heard that some linguists believe that Chomsky isn't even right when it comes to linguistics. He'll be forgotten within a few years after he dies. Like Freud - who was a quack and a crank - he'll be nothing more than an obscure footnote in obscure books.

manindarkhat said...

"But you don't go to him for pleasurable reading or profound insights."

You don't. But the leading scientists and philosophers in the world do. Chomsky is one of the 10 most important thinkers of the last 500 years.


Here's Chomsky setting his titanic intellect to work on evolution and race:

You have spent a lifetime researching human
intelligence and communication, have you seen any sign
we humans are evolving a wisdom from our experience?
If so, what is it? ANNE GERAGHTY

In the literal sense, there has been no relevant
evolution since the trek from Africa. But there has
been substantial progress towards higher standards of
rights, justice and freedom - along with all too many
illustrations of how remote is the goal of a decent
society.

http://shurl.org/zPMeQ

Steve Sailer is a much more important and insightful writer than Chomsky. And writes much better prose. Chomsky is merely more influential than Sailer, at present.

Anonymous said...

Spinning word-webs is the Jewish speciality, as you'd expect from their middle-man history."

The fact that Jews are disproportionately favored in all intellectual/scientific fields as compared to white gentiles (yes, even those that require primarily logical/spatial intelligence such as math) is not due to "word webs." It's due to the simple fact that, on average, Jews are better at intellectual pursuits. Sorry buddy.