November 15, 2008

What is art?



In The Nation, art critic Barry Schwabsky, an American living in England, writes:

In recent decades the philosophy of art has been much preoccupied with the enigma of why a given object does or doesn't count as a work of art. Since the challenge of Duchamp's Fountain and other readymades, according to the Belgian writer Thierry de Duve, the form of aesthetic judgment has undergone a shift: from "this is beautiful" to, simply, "this is art." For the philosopher, art status is like a light switch, either on or off. But the everyday art world is nothing like that, which is why the sociologist Howard Becker complains that the philosopher's art world "does not have much meat on its bones." For Becker, as for artists, collectors and critics, whether something is a work of art or not is the least of it. In the sociologist's art world, hierarchies, rankings and orders of distinction proliferate. Status and reputation are all, and questions about them abound. Why does the seemingly kitschy work of Jeff Koons hang in great museums around the world while the equally cheesy paintings of Thomas Kinkade would never be considered?...

The same kinds of question could be asked in other fields, but in the art of the past hundred years or so such questions have been of the essence: art is the field that exists in order for there to be contention about what art is. And such questions are not just for the cognoscenti; they've caught the fancy of a broad public as well. Once the man in the street saw a Picasso painting and said, "My kid could do better." Today, that child has grown up and is bemused but no longer outraged to read that a shark in a fish tank is worth a fortune but has been generously loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now he admires, at least grudgingly, the clever scamp who could orchestrate that, and finds the whole affair rather interesting to talk about--even if the object itself might not, he suspects, be much to look at.

The idea that the man in the street talks about Damien Hirst or anyone else of his ilk is a very London-centric notion. On my walks, I drop in sometimes at the two local art galleries, which sell mostly to mid-level entertainment industry people concerned with impressing other entertainment industry people. Neither gallery would touch a stuffed shark. They sell mostly representational or quasi-representational paintings by living artists that are fairly attractive -- stuff that would be pleasant (or at least tolerable) to have in your house. There's more professional visual talent in LA -- directors of photography, set decorators, costume designers, editors, special effects directors, lighting men, etc. -- than probably anywhere else in the world. And the contemporary art scene is of little interest here.

This is not to say that at the high end of the LA social scale, the values of the contemporary art world are not upheld. For example, LA's community-leader-for-life, billionaire real estate developer Eli Broad, has used his vast wealth to scar the city with his hideous artistic taste:


This is the enormous sculpture that Broad paid to have implanted outside the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. From one angle, it looks like a chicken's skeleton made out of old airplane parts. I guess its prominent position is supposed to be an "ironic" reference to Los Angeles's historic role in the airplane industry. It's a whole bunch of twisted airplane parts scrambled together like the worst airplane crash in the history of the world. My father, a stress engineer at Lockheed, spent 40 years squinting at microscopic photographs of metal fatigue precisely to prevent beautiful airplanes from turning into abortions like this -- because in the real crashes he investigated, where he spent weeks picking parts out swamps and wheat fields to figure out why the plane went down, intertangled with the metal bits were scraps of human flesh.

Schwabsky goes on to allude to the fact that the question of what get's called "art" in our culture is less philosophical than sociological:

One unusual aspect of the art world--at least among the people who buy art rather than make it--goes unmentioned by Thornton, although a number of her interlocutors subtly allude to it: the fact that, at least in the United States and England, art's collectorship is heavily Jewish, and perhaps to a lesser extent, so is its "administration." Consider that in London, the unprecedented intensity of interest in contemporary art might never have happened were it not for the efforts of two men, both Jewish: the Iraqi-born collector Charles Saatchi and Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate Gallery. One collector compares an evening sale at Christie's to "going to synagogue on the High Holidays. Everybody knows everybody else, but they only see each other three times a year, so they are chatting and catching up." A Turner Prize judge compares art to the Talmud: "an ongoing, open-ended dialogue that allows multiple points of view." Thornton observes the director of Art Basel, the world's most important contemporary art fair, making his round of the stands: he shmoozes his clients, the dealers, in French, Italian and German, and, Thornton observes, "I believe I even heard him say 'Shalom.'"The implicitly Jewish ethos surely feeds into the feeling that the art world is somehow set apart, part of the establishment perhaps but only "in a funny sense."

It's important to keep in mind that the Museum of Modern Art in NYC is a high WASP creation -- the founding committee met in John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s living room.

Still, it's not just Jewish buyers, but also Jewish critics, too, who determine "what is art" these days, as Tom Wolfe pointed out in his wonderful little book The Painted Word a third of a century ago. Rather than write about three famous gentile painters of the 1940s-1960s, Pollock, Rauschenberg, and Johns, he wrotes about the three Jewish critics, Greenberg, Rosenberg, and Steinberg, respectively, who explained why we should care about them.

And for awhile, Americans did care about contemporary art. Time and Life used to run detailed coverage of the New York art scene when I was a kid. But now, the near-universal opinion in America is that contemporary art of the airplane crash sculpure variety is not just a joke, but an unfunny joke, so nobody pays any attention anymore. Now that Dave Barry has retired, I almost never hear about the British Turner Prize anymore in American publications.

I suspect that one reason that the contemporary art scene in Britain is going stronger than in America is because Britain has fewer Jews, so contemporary art got a later start as a big whoop-tee-doo, so the public hasn't gotten quite as sick of it yet.

The basic problem is that Jews tend to be cognitively stronger with words than with images, so they are better at making up theories about why a stuffed shark is art rather than determining which art objects are beautiful and which are not. (To see how stark the ethnic cognitive divide is, look at lists of nominees for the Oscar in Best Cinematography vs. the Oscar nominees for Best Adapted and Best Original screenplays.)

When artistic status is largely determined by critics and collectors who, on average, come from a culture where people are cognitively stronger with words and numbers than with images, who are better at making up verbal theories than at painting pictures, you get in-joke art for people who want other people to notice that they are smart enough to get the joke.


My pet peeve, of course, is that golf course architecture, which functions exactly like a traditional art form, is never considered "art." (The pictures are from the Cypress Point Golf Club, designed in the 1920s by Alister MacKenzie.) Golf course architecture has had its ups and downs, but it hasn't driven itself into a ditch like contemporary art. For once, the WASP upper class, which runs the United States Golf Association, didn't lose it head. It kept sending the U.S. Open back to the great pre-1930 courses, keeping alive old standards of excellence.

Thus, here's the last course designed by Mike Strantz, the remake of the Monterey Peninsula Shore Course, before his death at age 50 in 2005 (golf course architecture has needed a romantic hero who died young):


Cognitive ability makes a big difference in art criticism. For instance, I have a decent two-dimensional visual capability (I can often figure out the designer of an unknown golf course I see from an airplane), but I'm weak at three dimensions. For a long time, this lack didn't stop me from confidently sounding off about golf course architecture. But as I've gotten to know the inner circle of golf architecture aficionados over the last few years, people like electrician Tommy Naccarato, one of the most influential amateur enthusiasts in the country, who has on file in his brain 3-d maps of thousands of golf holes, I've found myself with less to say on the subject as I better grasp my shortcomings. It's not just that they've worked harder at understanding golf course architecture than I have, but that they're smarter at it than I'll ever be.

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

64 comments:

Bursting with repletion said...

Steve, I suspect you composed this blog offering, combining the twin concerns of status-seeking and Jewish influence just to irk Larry Auster.

Anonymous said...

uh oh steve. auster is going to go apes**t over this post. you can talk about any other race/ethnicity/whatever, but as soon as you mention J*w, auster is going to be all over you and attack you as some sort of frivolous reductionist who lacks the depth and clarity to see the bigger civilizational forces at work.

Anonymous said...

This site http://www.artrenewal.org expands on Steve's thoughts.

anony-mouse said...

'look at the lists of nominees for the Oscars for cinematography vs the Oscars for best adapted and best original screenplays'

The exact opposite conclusion would be drawn from the lists of Nobelists in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine vs the list of Nobelists in Literature.

According to Steve himself the greatest writer of the 20th century was Solzhinitsyn (who I don't think was Jewish). Who would Steve say was the best physicist?

agnostic said...

When artistic tastes are largely determined by critics and collectors who, on average, come from a culture where people are cognitively stronger with words and numbers than with images, you get ugly art.

That's definitely sufficient. Is it also necessary? The case to check is Japan or Hong Kong -- very high visuospatial skills among the pop, and lower skills with words. Also, not much interest in pointless abstract arguing as with Europeans or Jews.

My vague impression is that Japan participates as much as the West does in ugly and severe modern art.

Anonymous said...

Might it also be another facet of the 'culture of critique' (or Jewish race war against the White man, as some anti-semites label anti-gentilism)?

Anonymous said...

"To see how stark the ethnic cognitive divide is, look at lists of nominees for the Oscar in Best Cinematography vs. the Oscars for Best Adapted and Best Original screenplays."

Ironically, Stanley Kubrick and the Coen brothers are among the great formalists in American movie history. But their movies do not contain much Jewish content (in the case of the Coens, a negative depiction of Jews when they do appear), and all three men married outside of their tribe.

Anonymous said...

It's not funny when you go out of your way to troll Auster.

Anonymous said...

I'm an idiot when it comes to art, so I rely on my elementary school age kids to suss out what's aesthetically pleasing from what's just a big joke on the viewer. In LA, they hate the MOCA and find that airplane sculpture to be ugly and ridiculous, like the Getty primarily for the gardens and the fossils embedded in the building's exterior, and adore the Norton Simon in Pasadena. The late 19th Century and early 20th seem to be their sweet spot for paintings that don't simply look like photos yet are compelling and beautiful to them.

Surprisingly, my kids made me reassess my view of Richard Serra, whose work I always found hideous and boring. They were absolutely delighted by his two giant rusty sculptures at the LACMA, especially the one they can run through like the inside of a huge chambered nautilus. However, at the end of the day they'd really rather look at the mammoth and saber tooth skeletons next door at the tar pits.

Kids may not paint as well as modern artists, but they seem to well equipped to judge them.

steve wood said...

Good column, Steve! I always enjoy your musings on contemporary culture.

It occurs to me that the same thing has largely happened in contemporary classical music. (Hmmm ... oxymoron alert. Maybe "serious" music is a better term.)

I know a lot of people who love "serious" music, but most of them know very little about anything composed in the last few decades and care even less.

Educated, cultured people are still supposed to know at least a little bit about art and classical music; but, unless you belong to the minuscule art scenes in NY and LA, it's perfectly OK to know nothing after ca 1920 in music and ca 1960 in painting.

This parallels the exile of Broadway musicals to a gay ghetto that you've talked about many times.

Bit by bit, it seems that any effort at serious culture, or even cultured entertainment, is marginalized.

Big Bill said...

I searched for Eli Broad and art and got this from the Jewish Journal:

Why Aren't Jews Giving to Jews?

"Eli Broad, considered by many to be the most influential, public-spirited and generous Jewish citizen of Los Angeles, estimates that he and his wife gave away $350 million last year, of which $2 million went to specifically Jewish causes."

Let me just say, "Mr. Eli, give to Jewish causes ... Please."

Alternatively, Mr. Eli, you can spend your artistic dollars on Detroit, the city of your birth. In Detroit, your sculptures would blend right in.

Anonymous said...

I think that the conscious attempt to screw up Western high culture has largely succeeded. Ethnic spite has long ago won that battle. All the new real art these days - and by that I mean high skill combined with high intelligence for the purpose of amusing smart people - is done outside of the boundaries of modern "high art". Modern "classical" music isn't art, but a lot of Beatles songs are, for example. Modernist painting isn't art, but a lot of modern cartoonists are real artists. Frank Gehry isn't a great architect, but some of the people who design suburban single family homes around here are pretty good. Don't laugh, I've seen a few great ones. I don't know if Steve would agree with this, but I've always thought that the Hollywood movies that have the most art (as opposed to "art") in them were comedies. Making people laugh is a difficult skill. Laughter is an involuntary reaction, so it can't be convincingly faked. There's a lot of craftsmanship involved there. The self-consciously, "seriously" artsy movies though are mostly political propaganda and nonsense. It's not that art disappeared. Making beautiful, difficult-to-do things is a basic human compulsion. It's just that when high art's traditional, pre-WWI living quarters (museums and such) were closed for new art and were exclusively given over to new "art" (i.e. crap), the succeeding generations of people who were interested in making beautiful things moved somewhere else.

WLindsayWheeler said...

Art is "things that are made by humans".

But "Beauty" is another thing. Don't confuse Art with Beauty.

The ancient Greek poet Hesoid says something of the Greeks, "They are Lovers of the Beautiful". In turn, these lovers of the Beautiful, COPIED from nature and built the Parthenon, sculpted statues and other forms of beautiful art.

Where do we first get the sense of beauty?

From Nature.

What does Nature have inherent within the beauty it displays?

Symmetry, proportion, harmony. Most all things in nature exhibit those three things. Many things in nature are composed of the Divine Proportion 1.6; from the nautilus shell, to the honeycomb of bees, to plants and flowers.

Classical and neo-classical architecture incorporates all this. That is why we are drawn to much older buildings and modern stuff is just junk.

Beauty requires and has certain laws attached to it.

America produces ugly stuff because her people are in essence ugly. The principle is "Like produces like". Beauty produces beauty and Ugly produces ugly.

Beauty is produced from "high" thoughts and sentiments. The vulgar class is the vulgar class. Beauty is the production of the high and noble and is somepart spiritual.

In our materialist and nihilist age, beautiful are is non-existent. That is the whole point of socialist avant-garde crap.

Socrates touches on this in the Republic. Surround children with ugly stuff--they will become ugly. Surround children with beauty, and they will become beautiful.

Anonymous said...

"When artistic tastes are largely determined by critics and collectors who, on average, come from a culture where people are cognitively stronger with words and numbers than with images, you get ugly art."

This reasoning sounds pretty screwy to me. Jews do pretty well in the the visual-spatial heavy field of physics and it seems the trailblazers, like Einstein or Feynman, draw from the minority of strong visual thinkers among the population. I realize that selective pressure on art critics wouldn't be as high, but I'd still expect that the more elite art critics would still have considerable visual ability to be drawn to covering art as their niche. Also, I recall some NY times coverage that contemporary modern art is gaining popularity in China, any evidence their art critics have better judgment due to the population's visual-spatial skew?

The simpler explanation seems to be the predilection for blank slate thinking in the arts, specifically that judgments about beauty are just social conventions and that they don't help to appreciate art in any consequential way, that in fact they stand in the way of art's advancement. This view was quite appealing in the mid 20th century when those critics you mention were writing, seems like they capitalized on it make make a name for themselves.

Anonymous said...

The Coen's next flick is about Jews.

"A Serious Man."

The protagonist is Larry Gopnik, a Jewish academic living in a middle class Jewish neighborhood in a Minneapolis suburb in 1967.[2] The story follows Gopnik's spiritual and existential struggle as his wife Judith contemplates leaving him for his colleague Sy Ableman. -Wikipedia

Duluth Says:

March 21, 2008 at 9:08 am
http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,,2240110,00.html

Raised in the Midwest town of Minneapolis, they gained outsider status early by virtue of their Jewishness. Going to Zionist summer camps, they stood out amid the provincial conformity. McDormand has said that it made her husband and Ethan feel like weirdos. And like another Jew from the Midwest, Steven Spielberg, they spent a lot of time indoors watching films on television.

The results, though, could not be more different, not least in their contrasting visions of the American melting pot. ‘You’ve got two problems of Hollywood treatment of ethnicity,’ Joel has observed. ‘They’re either reverential or they can’t deal with it at all.’ The Coens seem mischievously attracted to stereotypes, and the polar caricatures of the Jew as idealistic intellectual and cunning parasite have featured in Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing, each time played by John Turturro, a Roman Catholic. If you can attribute a moral interest to the Coens, it would be in the myths society produces, rather than society itself.

The Coen brothers, born and bred in Minnesota attended a Zionist summer camp in Wisconsin. I think their portrayal of (dimwitted) gentiles in their films comes from this type of separatist indoctrination. Interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air, while discussing his film “Fargo” Ethan stated that he thought the character Marge, viewed by host Terry Gross as having a big heart and likable, was “the bad guy” and “not given to introspection.” Coen most identified with Steve Buscemi’s character Carl, a murderer, because he was “alien” and “an outsider.” Coen didn’t identify with Carl’s sidekick Gaear either, because Gaear “was Swedish and in a sense connected to the region.”

Ronduck said...

when I was in the sixth grade the state built a new urban commuter freeway near my school. After the freeway was complete the state decided to decorate the top of the sound wall with giant sculptures meant to look like broken pottery and spheres.

One of the locals living near the freeway was so disgusted by what the state bought that he decided to make his own contribution. He took a common toilet, spray painted it gold and placed it on the sound wall next to the other public "art."

Bill said...

This golf course art has a strong resemblance to Asian landscape paintings. Very beautiful stuff. I'm not sure if it's still possible, but when I was in Beijing a decade ago one could buy very beautiful paintings for dirt cheap. I attended some art shows with friend who is a member of the Bai minority and currently a professor of calligraphy in Metz France.

I've never really been happier than when I was surrounded by such beautiful things. I understand why men will go to such lengths to engage in recreational pursuits in the midst of these crafted landscapes. I can understand why the Khans and European kings spent so much time hunting in their private reserves. Natural beauty nourishes the soul.

Born Again Democrat said...

As a professional landscapte gardener (retired) I naturally agree with you about the beauty of golf courses. It all goes back to the English romantic, naturalistic landscape movement (Capability Brown, etc.) which also influenced Frederick Law Olmstead and, in an attenuated form, modern upper-middle class leafy suburbia -- sort of the way 60's ranchers were a descendant of Frank Lloyd Wright's prarie style, though not nearly so bad.

Unfortunately, gardening is like skywriting. I goes away rather quickly -- as opposed, say, to a beautiful Renoir impressionist painting. What I want to know is why no one practices these impressionist techniques anymore? I'd buy an impressionist portrait of my daughter in a minute, if I could afford it.

bob said...

Is there anyone who says that golf courses aren't art?

I believe the most valuable art that is in private hands are the works of Gustav Klimt. I agree with the market here, they really are spectacular.

testing99 said...

Anon is correct, Steve, and just to poke a few holes in your theory, Jews in pre-WWII Britain were well represented. After all, Disraeli was of Jewish ancestry, directly, far more than any US President.

What is different between the US and Britain is that Britain had it's own native artists and artistic traditions: including Hogarth and Turner and the like. Britons knew of this tradition and so thought Fine Art was well, British. Something that belonged to them as much as painting Southern France belonged to the French.

In contrast, America had only Remington and Thomas Eakins (himself largely forgotten). Lack of the native American artistic tradition has left America terribly vulnerable to imported junk from other cultures and natures.

blue said...

When artistic status is largely determined by critics and collectors who, on average, come from a culture where people are cognitively stronger with words and numbers than with images..."

This part I get.

...you get ugly art.

How does this follow? Why would critics not use their verbal talent to praise beautiful art rather than ugly art?

After all, most critics aren't as good at creating art as the artists themselves are. (Isn't that part of the reason as to why they are critics)?

togo said...

This post reminded me that, once upon a time, I thought it likely for the average German to have some kind of an opinion on Jurgen Habermas.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I'm so very sorry you live near that bird thing.

I have a sensitive seven-year-old daughter with an extremely high I.Q.; I don't know what it is, but she scored a perfect score on the yearly standardized test putting her in the top 1% both times. Anyways, I honestly think she would cry if she saw that bird monstrosity. I don't think I have it in my heart, yet, to show her to find out her reaction; a parent has to strike a balance between preserving innocence and teaching that evil exists.

As far as modern art, I think Wayne Thiebaud will be well known and loved one-hundred years from now. Per the thread on Mormons being conservative New Englanders, Thiebaud was born, in 1920, to Mormons (don't know his current religious affiliation).

http://www.amazon.com/Wayne-Thiebaud-Retrospective-Steven-Nash/dp/0500092923/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226805295&sr=1-1

Anonymous said...

The book that Barry Schwabsky is reviewing, Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton, is very informative.

Check out her website.

I also think Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste by Pierre Bourdieu is relevant here.

He explains why upper-class people like pictures of car crashes. With survey data to back it up!

Anonymous said...

That's definitely sufficient. Is it also necessary? The case to check is Japan or Hong Kong -- very high visuospatial skills among the pop, and lower skills with words. Also, not much interest in pointless abstract arguing as with Europeans or Jews.

My vague impression is that Japan participates as much as the West does in ugly and severe modern art.


Japan also has the top illustrators in the world: most ugly and severe modern art is made for consumption by Westerners (Takeshi Murakami is case in point). And China has a cottage industry producing this kind of awful art to sell to gullible, novelty-seeking Westerners.

Japanese spend plenty of time arguing about theory and the claim about low word skills is nonsensical -- unless you know Japanese or Chinese you have no basis for evaluation. There is a lot of literary and critical overlap between the West and the East but due to the language barrier, it goes largely unnoticed.

Anonymous said...

This post says more about Steve than it does about Jews. Steve gets close to the truth here, in noting that the MoMA was founded by rich NYC WASPs, but he fails to connect the dots because of his Jew thing. Modern art is one of a series of ways that a certain class of successful 20th Century American Jews attempted to assimilate by aping WASP culture. Another (of many) examples is the choir they put in the main reform synagogue on New York's Upper East Side, Temple Emmanuel. These are the Jewish equivalent of Episcopalians.

This is also an example of how, in the eyes of Jew-haters, Jews are damned no matter what they do. When Jews don't assimilate, they are criticized for that, and when they do assimilate, by embracing a crappy form of WASP art, they are accused of fighting a 'race war' against gentiles.

- Fred

testing99 said...

Another hole in Steve's thesis --

Jews, and that would be deeply assimilated Jews, like Sam Goldwyn, Jack Warner, and Louis B. Mayer, all ran Hollywood to great profitability and made beautiful movies. Forget Citizen Kane, the general run of movies, while often shot on the cheap, was truly beautiful. Even the late run of low-budget TV shows from the fifties, including "Have Gun, Will Travel," often featured beautiful location shots that even in cheap Black and White looked beautiful (and lonely).

The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, any MGM Musical, reflected the overall tastes of the deeply assimilated Jews who ran Hollywood. They diid not obviously direct, construct the art, design the sets, but did in fact hire those who did, and bore final responsibility for what was put on screen.

That these movies are still watched today, and loved, speaks to the innate aesthetic sense of the men who hired the directors and artists.

No medium is more visual than film, and here Steve's ideas that Jews lack visual aesthetic sense is proven wrong.

The check for how his theory holds up should be European nations, both pre- and post-Holocaust, Japan, China, and other nations with no Jews ever in appreciable numbers. China is filled with junk art, the way Japan is. Shanghai is ground zero for ugly, mega-monster buildings, as is Taiwan. Japan has their share too, as does Dubai (no Jews there) and Kuala Lumpur (Petronas Towers are remarkably Ugly).

Steve's insight is kin-networks, but here he's pushed it just too far. More likely is the demographic changes, and universal nature of the elite, which is a global "priesthood" replicating the Catholic Church in Europe during Dark Ages and Early Medieval periods. The same guys get the same jobs and do the same stuff over and over again in Shanghai, or LA, or Barcelona, or Madrid, or London, or Paris, or Tokyo. Because the elites who run the local places all have allegiance to the same idea of internationalism and "Davos Man" type identities. Yes, even to some degree in China and Japan.

And yes, much like the way the Catholic Church wielded power in the Dark Ages and Early Medieval Period, when monarchs were weak and few had literacy (here few have international connections, multi-lingual ability for languages that MATTER, and personal log-rolling capacity with high ups spread across nations).

[Languages that MATTER: Arabic, English, Russian, Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, German, in no particular order. Because that's where the money and power are.]

Alternatively, "brutal" states that express State Power in one form or another wish for "brutalizing" architecture, even if the State is dressed up in a guise of Democracy, as in the UK, France, US, etc. In the way that the Soviets constructed brutalizing monstrosities and brutal art.

Either theory has more explanatory power than Steve's IMHO.

TH said...

'look at the lists of nominees for the Oscars for cinematography vs the Oscars for best adapted and best original screenplays'

The exact opposite conclusion would be drawn from the lists of Nobelists in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine vs the list of Nobelists in Literature.


I fail to see the contradiction. Certainly mathematical/logical ability is more important for scientists than visuo-spatial ability. Incidentally, one of the concerns of the Nazi "Aryan Physics" movement was that "Jewish Physics" was poorly visualizable and relied too much on arcane mathematical formulations.

To get a Nobel prize in literature you don't necessarily need off-the-charts verbal skills; there are no objective criteria for who gets awarded. Still, Jews are overrepresented among literature Nobelists even though the Nobel literature committee, unlike the science committees (apparently), was clearly anti-Semitic until after WW2. (Prominent Jewish or half-Jewish authors from the first half of the 20th century who didn't get the prize include Proust, Roth, Broch, Werfel, Döblin, and Schnitzler. Two Jews did get the prize before WW2, whereas after the war eleven have.)

Truth said...

Golf is the best way to spoil a good walk.
-Winston Churchill

Black Sea said...

Jews living in a gentile culture would tend to to have an iconoclastic streak (Jews living in a Jewish culture tend to have an iconoclastic streak, but I digress).

The appeal of modernism was, in it's earlier, and more accomplished phase, both iconoclastic and idealistic, very much a reflection of the paradox of progress amid ruin that characterized the 20th Century. Modernism wasn't particularly a failure, or at least an unmitigated failure, it just ran out of steam, as everything else tends to do. What we are left with is post-modernism, a sort of aesthetic holding pattern, until something better comes along. It's not surprising then, that a general interest in the visual arts has waned.

A bit tangentially, I wonder what you (Steve) and others think of Frank Gehry's work. He's probably the architect most associated with an LA aesthetic, not that his buildings much remind me of the Beach Boys.

simon said...

Jews may have higher median verbal IQ than visual IQ, but they still have a high visual IQ, higher than eg WASPs.

Also, I'm not sure you need a high visual IQ to make beautiful-looking things. Humans have been making beautiful things for 40,000 years or so.

I think the decision to cease valuing beauty and value ugliness instead was a conscious one. This extends far beyond elite Jewish cliques. It started after WW1 and has been spreading ever since. The Frankfurt School has certainly been influential, but it is not a Jewish-controlled phenomenon, at least not outside the US.

Reader said...

The Nazis made the same complaint about Jews promoting garbage modern art back in the 30's, in their film The Eternal Jew. Which is not to say that the claim is wrong. It's interesting that the claim has been around for such a long time, and evidently has a lot to back it up. Certainly seems to fit in with the general theme of the "Culture of Critique".

Of course, as with the movie and the music industries, it's hard to know what the art world in America would be like if it were dominated by Euro-American tastes as opposed to Jewish ones because it's been dominated by Jews for so long. We really have no idea. A Euro-dominated culture in contemporary America is impossible to even imagine.

Steve Sailer said...

I'm most familiar with Gehry's Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. It's not as bad as his house or his MIT Toontown building. It's basically a huge piece of shiny metal sculpture -- plop art -- tacked all around a fairly normal building -- the exact opposite of form follows function. The good news is that it's not a particularly ugly sculpture. Gehry's people designed it using a CAD program for, I believe, sailboats, so it has nautical curves, which are reasonably appealing to the eye. The concert hall is supposed to have good acoustics, which are important. Its random-shaped lobby is terrible.

Los Angeles has a traditional indigenous style -- Spanish Mission -- that looks good and is suited to the climate. The city would be better off if architects would just build in the Spanish Mission style. LA's main architectural problem is not a lack of distinctive buildings but a lack of coherent streets where the buildings mesh with each other sytlistically.

But you can't become a starchitect using a traditional style, so there's a constant competition to devise ever sillier new styles, such as Gehry's.

Gaijin said...

Also, not much interest in pointless abstract arguing as with Europeans or Jews.

Agnostic is completely wrong on this point. The Japanese have been having pointless abstract arguments since at least the 8th century AD. Japanese are also, at least in Japan, cognitively very strong with words and numbers. Japan has, at this point, probably one of the great reading populations in the world, a country where it is still very common to see people reading actual books on the subway. Word games are very popular in Japan. But there must be a cultural as well as biological element to this - Japanese Americans are not as strong in verbal skills. And Israelis, as far as I can tell, are also no match for English or Russian speaking Jews when it comes to cognitive strength in words. There simply are no great Hebrew writers, or even important ones. Maybe the fact that modern Hebrew is an artificial creation with less than 100 years of history as a spoken language has something to do with that.

Henry Canaday said...

I thought the French were the world champions at creating over-intellectualized word theories to justify bad, ugly or just repulsive art. But the amazing thing is that, judged by the look of their cities, the French do not actually build or tolerate, with a handful of exceptions, any public art that is not beautiful.

When first proposed, the Eiffel Tower was attacked as a modernist monstrosity, yet the Tower tuned out to be well-proportioned and rather beautiful. And shortly afterwards, conservative forces insisted on building a Romanesque basilica, Sacre Coeur, on the highest point in Paris. They erected Sacre Coeur on the peak of Montmartre, just where all the modernist painters and writers were beavering away in their hovels to create their own, much different but still beautiful, works.

Perhaps the difference is that in France art is argued intensely, by both sides. In Anglo-Saxon counties, the sane side seems to just walk away in bewilderment or devotes itself to building golf courses.

hcl said...

China is filled with junk art, the way Japan is. Shanghai is ground zero for ugly, mega-monster buildings, as is Taiwan.

Without the delusion that these architectural malformations constitute art.

From "45 Goals of the Communist Manifesto":

22. Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression. An American Communist cell was told to, “eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.”

dearieme said...

If I were Umpire, I'd give the decision to the chap who relates the decline of Western Culture to WW1. That's not to say I wasn't amused at Steve's tongue-in-cheek account of sly gentiles ripping off gullible Jews. It was t-in-c, wasn't it?

Anonymous said...

One of the better articles on art I've read, thanks for posting this.

Bill said...

"My pet peeve, of course, is that golf course architecture, which functions exactly like a traditional art form, is never considered "art.""

Considered in the context of the overall post, I rather think you should give thanks to God every day that golf course architecture isn't considered "art" by the educated and influential.

albertosaurus said...

Much of the discussion about 'art' disappears when you differentiate 'high art' from 'commercial art'. Micheangelo and Raffael would be called commercial artists by today's definitions. They created visual dipictions of imagined realities in which artistic skill was harnested to the communication of a message. Today almost all artists are employed in just his kind of art. Consider The Incredible Hulk or Beowolf. The so called high art practioners like Christo - famous for big fences - would not have been recognized as artists in the Renaissance at all.

I used to be involved slightly in the creation of 3D computer graphics. After I gave that up I hired a young Jewish art graduate student as a secretary. I had created a logo in a popular drawing program - Corel Draw. Corel Draw like Adobe's Illustrator is a program that allows you to do 2D shapes from Bezier curves. Draw programs are very different from so called paint programs like Adobe Photoshop. Adobe Flash also uses Bezier curves.

This young woman had prospered as an art student yet she was completely unable to manipulate bezier curves. She was like someone who was brain damaged. She seemed normally intelligent otherwise but she had zero artistic ability on the computer. I foolishly let her spend weeks trying to recreate an hour's work.

Later I went to an exhibition of student works at her art university. She had constructed a 'thing' that looked like a pile of pubic hair covered in snot (or some other bodily secretion).

She 'explained' her work at great length. There were an abundance of concepts and theories. Apparently she was a success in high art because of her verbal prowess. Her inability to manipulate or even understand elementary art tools was not a disadvantage.

As others have noted elsewhere, modern art - or more properly modern high art - is a field of endevor designed to separate social classes - those that 'get it' from those that don't. It is more or less a conspiracy designed to elevate ordinary people to cognoscenti status.

albertosaurus said...

it's perfectly OK to know nothing after ca 1920 in music and ca 1960 in painting.

Right idea - wrong dates.

Actually most of the general public is quite familiar with a lot of post 1920 classical music. The best example is the craze over the tenor aria Nessun Dorma from Turandot.

Sticking just with opera one might also mention Strauss' Arabella and Capriccio or Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. These are all mainstream works mounted by the Met and telecast on PBS.

Last week I rented Cardillac from NetFlix although that one is a bit less mainstream.

TH said...

Jews may have higher median verbal IQ than visual IQ, but they still have a high visual IQ, higher than eg WASPs.

What do you base that on, Simon? It seems that the consensus is that Jews do not have a higher visuo-spatial intelligence than gentiles. For example, Charles Murray wrote the following in his Commentary Magazine piece on Jewish intelligence:

Jews are only about average on the subtests measuring visuo-spatial skills, but extremely high on subtests that measure verbal and reasoning skills.

Someone asked Murray how "the average visuo-spatial skills of the Jews are to be reconciled with the dominance of Jews in world-class chess". Murray's answer explains this well, I think, and it also explains why Jews are disproportionately successful in other cognitively demanding fields where you'd think that visuo-spatial intelligence is very important:

For purposes of illustration, one might think of intellectual skills as moving on a spectrum from purely visuo-spatial through mathematical and logical to purely verbal. Jews have elevated scores not only on measures of verbal aptitude (which includes memory, extremely important at the higher levels of chess), but also on measures of mathematical and logical aptitude, which are extremely important to calculations of lines of play. Jews are just average on the visuo-spatial items in IQ tests that correlate with the ability to visualize chess positions. But “just average” means that the same proportion of Jews will be at the top percentiles on visuo-spatial skills as Gentiles, while higher proportions will be in the top percentiles on the mathematical, logical, and verbal skills that also contribute. Probabilistically, a higher proportion of Jews than Gentiles may be expected to have the complete package of exceptional skills that produces chess champions.

Similarly, it could be argued that in visual arts Jews, when greatly overrepresented among critics, collectors, and artists, compensate for their lack of exceptional visuo-spatial skills by redefining what art is. This gets us to Thierry de Duve's above quoted observation that "the form of aesthetic judgment" has shifted from "this is beautiful" to "this is art." I don't think this is some nefarious plot to subvert gentile culture. Rather, it's just that Jews nowadays form much of the establishment in America (and the UK), including the arts establishment, and the rest of the West gets its cultural marching orders from the American establishment (even if Europeans and others protest at it continually).

steve wood said...

the French do not actually build or tolerate, with a handful of exceptions, any public art that is not beautiful.

I wonder if this has something to do with the French being more secure in their artistic identity than Anglo-Saxons. Traditional AS culture is a bit suspicious of artists, generally regarding art a less-than-masculine pursuit. This is less true among the French, who are therefore more willing to make their artistic heritage a part of their national identity. Accordingly, they might be less susceptible to dreadful fads because they're less in need of external validation of their artistic sensibilities.

In other words, Anglo-Saxons--so cool and confident in other ways--will always be artistic strivers needing to prove something because they don't see themselves as a naturally artistic people.

LA's main architectural problem is not a lack of distinctive buildings but a lack of coherent streets where the buildings mesh with each other sytlistically.

Actually, that mishmash can be charming in a random way. I find streets that have evolved naturally, with a mix of ages and styles of buildings, much more interesting than streets where the architecture is uniform. The latter can be beautiful if the style is beautiful, but it always seems a bit stagey to me.

I think LA's biggest problem is that so much of city was built from the 50s through the 70s, a time when ordinary buildings (not private houses, but stores, office buildings and the like) were mostly built in an ugly utilitarian style and monumental architecture was at its most brutal.

Even the late run of low-budget TV shows from the fifties, including "Have Gun, Will Travel," often featured beautiful location shots that even in cheap Black and White looked beautiful (and lonely).

I agree with the sentiment, but that second "even" doesn't belong there. They looked beautiful BECAUSE they were in black and white. First of all, B&W conceals a multitude of sins, especially in cheap productions. Secondly, B&W, being less realistic and more limiting, forces a certain poetry into each scene.

Anonymous said...

The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, any MGM Musical, reflected the overall tastes of the deeply assimilated Jews who ran Hollywood.

Do you really believe "Gone with the Wind" reflected the taste of Hollywood Jews? I doubt they had much a longing for the Old South, but they were definitely smart enough to profit off that longing in others. I imagine they ran Hollywood in much the way envisioned in "Barton Fink", probably not unlike the way Rahm Emanuel is going to run the White House.

Anonymous said...

One of the most revealing comments Auster has made is "Jews are sensitive to the charge of losing America"........(where "losing" = crashing the civilization).

Yes, after a tireless, century-long agitation to achieve a non-white majority, Frankfurt School, anti-Constitutional socialist state.......no wonder the Jews might be sensitive to that charge.

It's all so unfair. They should be able to go about the business of deconstructing and erasing America without blame.

TGGP said...

I also remarked on the under-representation of Jews among cinematographers compared to other parts of the film industry in my post on verbal vs visuo-spatial IQ.

Speaking of Gone With the Wind, there were actually a lot of Jews on the confederate side, although they tended to be from the earlier wave of Sephardics rather than the late 19th century eastern europeans that most Jewish Americans descend from.

josh said...

I have zero to add re modern art except to say that I have always thought Gehrys buildings were incredibly UGLY. I also cant stand Frank Lloyd Wright,some of whose ugly homes I see in my little town. As a "lad" I breifly thought of being an architect(sort of like George Costanza whining that he had always wanted to pretend to be an architect...) and I appreciate beautiful buildings,especially as they are becoming more rare.

Anonymous said...

"There simply are no great Hebrew writers, or even important ones."

Nonsense. David Grossman, Amos Oz, and A.B. Yehoshua, and S.Y. Agnon immediately come to mind as important and highly-respected Hebrew writers.

Abba Eban, who was primarily a diplomat and politician, was also a spectacularly gifted nonfiction writer (in English at least). He was also one of the best orators of the 20th Century (again, in English).

- Fred

Anonymous said...

One fascinating thing I find about ashkenazi jews is that while they may have a relatively low to average visuospatial IQ, they usually have really good imagination abilities. Imagination is hard to quantify, but I suspect that ashkenazi jews are somewhat more imaginative on average than non-jewish europeans. Its weird because you think that imagination is mostly visuospatial but there must be more to it than that.

MSG said...

When I saw the seascapes that illustrate this post, I did not recognize them as golf courses. Rather, I wondered whether they were exhibits from the laboratory of Komar and Melamid.

http://www.diacenter.org/km/

It is not clear whether Komar and Melamid are unintentionally supporting Steve Sailer's position, or whether Steve Sailer is unintentionally supporting their position, whatever that might be -- they are inscrutably quasi-ironic.

Steve Sailer said...

Dear MSG:

I wrote about Komar and Melamid's survey of human preferences in landscape paintings in my big 2005 golf course architecture article:

Richard Conniff wrote in Discover: "In separate surveys, Ulrich, Orians, and others have found that people respond strongly to landscapes with open, grassy vegetation, scattered stands of branchy trees, water, changes in elevation, winding trails, and brightly lit clearings..." In one amusing study, 1001 people from 15 different countries were surveyed about what they'd like to see in a painting. Then the sponsors of the research, conceptual art pranksters Komar and Melamid, painted each country's "Most Wanted Painting." Even though the researchers hadn't Coeur D'Alene Resort golf course, designed by Scott Miller. This is the mirror image of the real golf hole so the orientation is the same as in the painting above. mentioned what type of picture it should be, the consensus in 13 of the 15 cultures favored landscapes and 11 of the 15 looked surprisingly like golf courses. All over the world, people want to see grassland, a lake, and some trees, but not a solid forest. And they always want to see it slightly from above. The project was intended to satirize popular taste, but it ended up revealing much about about human desires. Above is Komar and Melamid's rendition of America's Most Wanted Painting and here's a par 3 from the Coeur d'Alene golf course in Idaho that is similar in outline but aesthetically superior in execution.

You can see the pictures at:

http://www.isteve.com/golf_art.htm

Anonymous said...

Rosenberg famously valorized de Kooning (also Gentile), as Greenberg did Pollock. Not so much the other painters you mention.

Later, in the 60s, Greenberg settled on Olitski as the leading painter, but Olitski's work didn't support the claims for it and few people were convinced.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. This is not the first article I have read which speaks about the relationship between Jews and ugly modern art.
http://www.whitenationalism.com/cwar/orange.htm

PrestoPundit said...

In Carlsbad in the 1990s the city hired an "artist" to but in some art in a tiny park located between the old highway 1 road -- and the ocean.

The "artist" put up _prison bars_, blocking the view of the ocean.

It took long and expensive litigation to get these bars cut down.

The fight was over whether the artist had some sort of right to the perpetual existence of his creation -- and with it a perpetual right to force people to look at his crap.

The prison bar things was "conceptual art" -- an intended finger in the eye of the "artists" fellow human beings.

Lawful Neutral said...

Art was doomed by cheap color printing and photography. It's no accident that it started going bonkers in the late 19th Century, just about the time these technologies arrived.

High art was always a status symbol, and once the commoners were able to afford beautiful images, the game had to change. Today the in-group is not the people who can afford art (because that's just about everybody), but the people who can appreciate it. So of course, something that just anyone is capable of enjoying won't cut it as high art.

I'm not saying it's a conspiracy, just evolution. Art that can't scratch the status itch can't succeed, so we get avant-garde crap that requires a post graduate degree to look at without rolling one's eyes.

billswift said...

"Who would Steve say was the best physicist?"

I don't know who Steve would say was, but I'd say it's Richard Feynman.

David said...

Responsible for much of the erstwhile "beautiful old Hollywood aesthetic" were the Catholic Production Code working in tandem with assimilationist Jews' attempt to make reliable profits from a vast majority of non-Jewish customers. Remove the Code, remove the assimiliationism, change the population (physically and mentally) - but leave the Jews - and you get Apatow.

Cowley said...

Someone asked Murray how "the average visuo-spatial skills of the Jews are to be reconciled with the dominance of Jews in world-class chess".

Well, their numbers at the top have been waning over recent decades as the game's popularity has spread beyond Eastern Europe and America. I'd say only 3 (Aronian, Gelfand, Svidler) of the world's current top 25 are recognisably Jewish.

An interesting twist on the ascendancy of modern art is its covert promotion by the CIA in the culture war before the Culture Wars.

Anonymous said...

"It occurs to me that the same thing has largely happened in contemporary classical music. (Hmmm ... oxymoron alert. Maybe "serious" music is a better term.)

I know a lot of people who love "serious" music, but most of them know very little about anything composed in the last few decades and care even less.

Educated, cultured people are still supposed to know at least a little bit about art and classical music; but, unless you belong to the minuscule art scenes in NY and LA, it's perfectly OK to know nothing after ca 1920 in music and ca 1960 in painting."


There may be in explnation for music and I wonder if there could be an analogous line for art. It seems unlikely that post-Duchamp art is all just a fraud. And from what I understand, many of the famous artists who do work that 'could be done by a 4-year-old' have the training and skill to do traditional representational painting (eg, Duchamp, Pollock, Johns). As it happens, I find Pollock's work immensely conpelling , but maybe artistically talented people see something in all those paintings and sculputrs that make no sense to the rest of us.


"Look, in principle, there are almost certainly true scientific theories that our genetically determined brain structures will prevent us from ever understanding. Some of these theories may well be ones that we would like to know about.

QUESTION: That's a discouraging prospect.

CHOMSKY: I don't see it as much of a reason to despair. In fact, I kind of like the conclusion. I'm not sure that I want free will to be understood.

QUESTION: Do you think that any other human abilities fall into the same mysterious category as free will?

CHOMSKY: In my opinion, all of them do.

QUESTION: All of them?

CHOMSKY: Take, for example, the aesthetic sense. We like and understand Beethoven because we are humans, with a particular, genetically determined mental constitution. But that same human nature also means there are other conceivable forms of aesthetic expression that will be totally meaningless to us. The same thing is as true for art as it is for science: the fact that we can understand and appreciate certain kinds of art has a flip side. There must be all kinds of domains of artistic achievement that are beyond our mind's capacities to understand.

QUESTION: Do you think genetic barriers to further progress are becoming obvious in some areas of art and science?

CHOMSKY: You could give an argument that something like this has happened in quite a few fields. It was possible in the late nineteenth century for an intelligent person of much leisure and wealth to be about as much at home as he wanted to be in the arts and sciences. But forty years later that goal had become hopeless. Much of the new work in art and science since then is meaningless to the ordinary person. Take modern music -- post-Schšnbergian music. Many artists say that if you don't understand modern music it's because you just haven't listened enough. But modern music wouldn't be accessible to me if I listened to it forever. Modern music is accessible to professionals, and maybe to people with a special bent, but it's not accessible to the ordinary person who doesn't have a particular quirk of mind that enables him to grasp modern music, let alone make him want to deal with it.

QUESTION: And you think that something similar has happened in some scientific fields?

CHOMSKY: I think it has happened in physics and mathematics, for example. There's this idea, which goes back to the French mathematicians known collectively as Bourbaki, that the development of mathematics was originally the exploration of everyday intuitions of space and number. That is probably somewhat true through the end of the nineteenth century. But I don't think it's true now. As for physics, in talking to students at MIT, I notice that many of the very brightest ones, who would have gone into physics twenty years ago, are now going into biology. I think part of the reason for this shift is that there are discoveries to be made in biology that are within the range of an intelligent human being. This may not be true in other areas.

Anonymous said...

The forward and epilogue of "The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe can be found here.

http://www.billemory.com/NOTES/wolfe.html

He is saying pretty much the same thing but more cleverly.

Black Sea said...

I remember reading somewhere about an abstract expressionist who painted an entire canvass a fairly neutral shade of white, more or less the color of the canvas itself. Upon completion, and seeming pleased with herslef, she was asked why she had done so.

She replied something like, "Because now I don't have to do it anymore."

In a sense, she was simply eliminating possibilities, rather like a clerk ticking an item off a box.

ben tillman said...

http://www.whitenationalism.com/cwar/orange.htm

Yeah, that article is the first thing I thought of when I saw that monstrous chicken.

G. M. Palmer said...

The same thing has certainly happened in poetry, with Silliman, et al leading the charge into nowhere.

M

Jun said...

Record-breaking golf course where a good driver is essential (it's 850 miles long)