Author Topic: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?  (Read 1668 times)

Thomas

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Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« on: March 30, 2021, 11:19:32 AM »
I am interested in writing. I liked to read it and make it. About ten years ago I studied literature and philosophy at university. You'd assume this would prime me well for diving into books and making connections between writers, intuitively recognising the hallmarks of a modernist or postmodernist text, but, a decade on, I struggle when I see terms like modernist, postmodernist, structuralist. In fact, I get to feeling quite down, not knowing where to (re)start with all this stuff, wondering if my own writing will always lack something until I improve my understanding.

I'm listening to Blindboy on The Adam Buxton Podcast this morning. Impressively knowledgeable and insightful about the history of art movements and critical theory - but also intimidating, even overwhelming.

It's regrettable that I was so withdrawn and unmotivated at university - looking back, it was an amazing opportunity to pave the inside of my head with the concrete of all this, ready to build upon in the subsequent years. However, as it stands, I frittered the time away listening to Morrissey and feelin' blue, and now I have to Google academic and critical terms every time I come across them. It can be quite embarrassing to admit that you've forgotten everything. I'm sure this is relatable.

So, clever clogses - and I know we have them on here - can you recommend any particularly good resources for the quasi-begin-againer?
« Last Edit: March 30, 2021, 11:37:55 AM by Thomas »

buttgammon

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2021, 12:26:57 PM »
There's loads of broad introductory books about stuff like this - some are good, some are not so good. Part of the difficulty in recommending stuff is that the better ones will give a broad survey of one area. For modernism, I really like The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner, which is quite academic but also entertaining (and almost all focuses on literature), and Modernism: The Lure of Heresey, which is broader and covers a number of different art forms.

With theory stuff, it's harder to pin things down. Despite being someone who actually deals with this stuff, I wouldn't worry about it as being essential to 'getting' art and literature at all, but if you really are interested, there are some good resources. I've taught and studied with a couple of introductory type books, and I think the best one is An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory by Nicholas Royle and Andrew Bennett. Unlike most books, it's organised thematically rather than on a theory-by-theory basis, so it's better at introducing you to actual ideas rather than big, abstract terms that nobody can agree on.

This is all really literature heavy because that's my area, but I'll have a think about more general stuff too.

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2021, 01:41:28 PM »
Re: structuralism - it's one of my favourite topics! There's a lot of mythology around the topic - a tendency to inflate the concept of "structuralism" to emphasize similarities with "poststructuralism" AKA "postmodernism", rather than differences  -  but at its heart the "structuralist" history is a story of disagreement.

If you ask me, a B.A. in linguistics, "structuralism" is epitomized by Roman Jakobson's work in the 1930s and 40s, and originally concerned the underlying "structure" of phonemes inside speech. He was in love with poetry, and he wanted to know why poetry sounded so good - and the way to do this was to investigate what structures could be found when you boiled the phonemes down to their constituent "features". For example, when words rhyme they share the same "height" and "frontedness" of vowel quality: "tree" and "bee" are [+high] whereas "cat" and "hat" are both [+low]. What's more, "tree" and "true" are both [+high], but only "tree" is [+front] ("true" contains a so-called "back" vowel).

That's the general approach, and where "structuralism" gets its name.

The significance of this dull-sounding fact is that linguistics was trying to get with the times and ape the sciences. In the context of the times, in 1922, Ludwig Wittgenstein had declared metaphysical philosophy dead; its speculative excesses anachronistic; and thus he had given rise to a generation of hard-nosed materialists in his thrall (the logical positivists), who sought answers to questions which could be answered with testable hypotheses and quantifiable means. Other humanities subjects, such as anthropology and literary studies, joined linguistics in this endeavor to make the humanities more scientific: they were the "structuralists", then.

To give an example in the Jakobsonian mould: the phonological structure /ðə/ is the "unmarked" form of the word "the", but if you want to stress the word "the", for example in saying "he is the epitome of mid-twentieth-century structuralist thought" you shift the pronunciation to /ðiː/ (sounding like "thee"). /ðiː/ is hence the "marked" form, and the distinction between /ðə/ (unmarked) and /ðiː/ (marked) is, in Jakobsonian terminiology (which remains influential for good reason) a distinction of "[+high] vowel", or its lack.

The point is that the brain reserves brainpower by noticing variation from the norm, and "marking" these with properties that the brain recognizes subconsciously when it is fluent in a language. Another application of this would be that the word "God" is assumed male (in English as in other languages) unless the "marked" form of the word is used: "Goddess". In the structuralist model, it would be characterized by some "feature" tag such as [+feminine], whereas the word "God" would carry no qualifying feature: God is male by default.

Poststructuralism was the name for the enfants terribles who came to prominence in the swinging sixties - notably Derrida and Foucault, who used the same kind of terminology as the old guard of structuralists (because they were relevant, more than anything), but in a way that undermined structuralism.

The old guard of structuralists wanted to solve mysteries with theories - the poststructuralists wanted to celebrate paradoxes and intensify mystery by treating structuralist thought with a philosophical lens: Derrida's "Of Grammatology" is a philosophical interrogation of the grandfather of structuralism, linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Poststructuralism, then, is essentially hostile towards the aims of structuralism. Poststructuralists tended to use this existing language of "structure" in a manner which actually criticised the presumptions of the the scientifically reformed humanities, such as the presumption that the world of science was to be aped in the first place, or that lots of diagrams and labelling of atomic parts such as the features [+high] [+front] etc. bring us closer to the truth. I actually agree that the structuralists held themselves in too high a regard in their logical positivism.

So because these "poststructuralists" were quite a different beast, the name gradually gave way to the catchier "postmodernists". Structuralism was strictly a trend within the humanities academy: "postmodernism" née "poststructuralism" was far more philosophical, far more socially-engaged, and, frankly, far more of a politicization of academia.

Followers of the poststructuralists started to regard these changes in thought as wider and broader than an academic quarrel with structuralism within the humanities per se, and moreso a grand turn away from "modernism" as an era writ large.

As "postmodernists", the meaning of "modernism" that they presume is nominally the same "modernism" as experts use the word "modernism" in art history (e.g. Picasso, the Futurists), literary studies (e.g. Proust), and music (e.g. Stravinsky). It's my opinion that the word has limited applicability in world-historical terms and that the postmodernists inflate the importance of this period (historians, notably, have not followed their lead in this division of the "modern age" (roughly Martin Luther until the present) into pre- and post-modernist ages)

So in summary, structuralism was an earnest attempt to systematize the humanities and propose formal structures (such as the "feature" [+high] vowel "attaching to" the word "the" in order to create the meaning "emphasize the uniqueness of") that would somehow lend legitimacy to the study of the humanities. Poststructuralism was a rebellion against this.

Wow! That's bloody long, and I didn't even get to Chomsky yet. I'll leave it there, though. I don't know what book you should read about structuralism but I would warn you to be wary of the label, since, if you take my word for it, there is more discontinuity than continuity between the structuralists and the poststructuralists aka postmodernists.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2021, 03:44:11 PM »
Advice from an unpublished writer who is completely unqualified to give advice:

If you want to write like Shakespeare, 'What is murder?" is a more useful starting point than 'What is Renaissance tragedy?'. The abstractions used by Eng. Lit. academics to divide history into periods are very interesting, but I reckon the creative artist's reading time is better split betwen:

a)gathering non-fictional materials- Do you see how knowing a lot about kayaking accidents could be a spur to writing a story in a way that knowing about postmodernism wouldn't be?
b) studying the specific techniques of the writers they really like- If you found listening to Morrissey more interesting than the material on your degree, why feel embarrassed about it? Why not figure out what methods he uses to make lyrics you respond to- what themes does he pick, what mixture of commonplace and fancy vocabulary did he use, how did he use rhyme?
c) Reading lots of fiction or poetry, classic or contemporary. If you want to write a novel but feel a bit intimidated, an interesting exercise is to read a load of debut novels that are out at the moment. Even when they're good, they're often less superhumanly good than you might have got used to reading all-time classics on a degree course.

None of that is intended to disparage the idea of learning literary history, which I love, but I think creative writing is a slightly different thing. As a way into the abstract side of things, I second buttgammon's reccomendation of Royle and Bennett. Harold Bloom's curmudgeonly and irritatingly anti-PC The Western Canon would provide a good re-introduction to twenty-six major canonical writers.

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2021, 05:28:50 PM »
Harold Bloom's curmudgeonly and irritatingly anti-PC The Western Canon would provide a good re-introduction to twenty-six major canonical writers.

This is not meant as a swipe, but has anyone here genuinely stuck with a project as long as "read all of the works mentioned in [worthy tome]"? I certainly never did. Although sometimes I have subconsciously tried to fulfil an imaginary, Bloomean "Western Canon" checklist in my head before and I wonder if I will ever get to the point where I say "well I've read all of those, now what?".

Thomas

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2021, 05:36:07 PM »
Thanks for your annotated recommendations, buttgammon;[1] your learned introduction to structuralism, Retinend; and your on-the-ground advice, A. Omens - your post resonated most closely with my situation, as I've been lucky enough over the past year to have several short stories published, and I've been reading lots of fiction to hone my familiarity with different styles and structures (and also new novels, as you mention). I just felt intellectually out of my depth listening to Blindboy with his endless reference points and knowledge of the -isms.
 1. I think I'll find a copy of An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, it sounds pretty approachable.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2021, 05:53:22 PM »
Advice from an unpublished writer who is completely unqualified to give advice:

If you want to write like Shakespeare, 'What is murder?" is a more useful starting point than 'What is Renaissance tragedy?'. The abstractions used by Eng. Lit. academics to divide history into periods are very interesting, but I reckon the creative artist's reading time is better split betwen:

a)gathering non-fictional materials- Do you see how knowing a lot about kayaking accidents could be a spur to writing a story in a way that knowing about postmodernism wouldn't be?
b) studying the specific techniques of the writers they really like- If you found listening to Morrissey more interesting than the material on your degree, why feel embarrassed about it? Why not figure out what methods he uses to make lyrics you respond to- what themes does he pick, what mixture of commonplace and fancy vocabulary did he use, how did he use rhyme?
c) Reading lots of fiction or poetry, classic or contemporary. If you want to write a novel but feel a bit intimidated, an interesting exercise is to read a load of debut novels that are out at the moment. Even when they're good, they're often less superhumanly good than you might have got used to reading all-time classics on a degree course.

None of that is intended to disparage the idea of learning literary history, which I love, but I think creative writing is a slightly different thing. As a way into the abstract side of things, I second buttgammon's reccomendation of Royle and Bennett. Harold Bloom's curmudgeonly and irritatingly anti-PC The Western Canon would provide a good re-introduction to twenty-six major canonical writers.

That would really be my feeling, if your genuinely interested in furthering your understanding then do so but if your thinking in terms of career success is it really going to matter that much in a world were 50 Shades sells millions? I mean you might look to aim higher than that but I'm guessing the absolutely peak of literary understanding isn't going to automatically equal success? I'd say thought that would actually be more important for say a career in publishing or literary criticism?

Personally I have absolutely zero art academic art experience beyond a disinterested F in GCSE's and when I started to set myself up as an art/landscape photographer a few years ago I did have a bit of the same kind of feeling you do. Ultimately though the people buying my work care little or nothing for that and I can't say I spent much time reading art theory beyond a few basics of composition, mostly just spent a lot of time taking pictures and exposed myself to as much of other peoples photography/painting/cinema that I liked as possible.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2021, 07:59:20 PM »
Read Das Capital, clean through, no guides or references, first part of volume 1 is a pain in the arse, gets clearer after that, so much critique comes from the Marxist millieu reading capital seems fundamental although very few people seem to bother with it.

In terms of something fun, informative and very funny try TJ Clark's in defence of abstract expressionism http://timothyquigley.net/vcs/clark-abex.pdf

Barthes Death of the author & Walter Benjamin's 'The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction', are considered two fairly fundamental essay-length texts

McKenzie Wark's 'General Intellects, twenty-one thinkers for the twenty-first century' also very good broad survey entry level stuff, but rigorous.

Ditto Gilda Williams 'How to write about contemporary art', more of a how to than a survey but includes 'what to read' segments.

Julian Stallabrass is good, if somewhat joyless, but his book on the YBAs pretty much nails it.

I'd also recommend Francis Halsall's Systems of Art, as a book that merges art history with systems theory.

John Berger's 'Ways of seeing'

Bracha Ettinger if you're feeling brave!

Talulah, really!

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2021, 10:22:18 PM »
Re: structuralism - it's one of my favourite topics!

#lots of very knowledgeable stuff#



So, basically,

"Structuralism - starts with sounds in the mouth,
Post-Structuralism - is when it all goes south."

I'm being facetious, though there is a point as ultimately there are probably only really three ways to acquire knowledge, by rote and repetition, (which is hard and the least effective), through linking it with things you already know even if you have to use some dubious climbing pegs on the way and finally through creative/critical engagement with the material work.

Even in coming up with that pathetic little mnemonic rhyme I have manages to smuggle at least two points from Retinend's splendid post into my head, a tip back to its origins in analysing poetry and language use by thinking about what the sounds are doing and that Post-Structuralism takes up an opposing position to some of those ideas.

By the very lightest of reviews and some minor playful creative engagement I've put a pin on my mental map, and at least the next time I encounter the terms a recollection of my silly moment of creativity will recall those two basic points and provide a little comprehension and context and I can acquire another fact or two and slowly, coral like, build up an understanding.


Disclaimer, as someone who left school at 16 and has never been near a university, my rather romanticised view is that the point in going would ideally be a) to obtain a thorough knowledge of a particular subject and/or b) learn how to think critically. These are two different things, fairly sure we can all call to mind people who whilst clearly experts in their field as soon as the find themselves invited to be on television's Question Time reveal themselves to be absolute idiots happy to vomit out ill considered nonsense.

Another way of looking at it, is to compare contestants on Mastermind, who are being rewarded for remembering facts with Chess Grandmasters who are rewarded for very exhausting mental work but the knowledge required to actually play chess can be obtained in an afternoon, step 1 setting up the board "The square that is white, is always on the right." Gotta have a rhyme for it.[1]

Having your critical thinking skills switched on is one way to improve your engagement with the material the better to secure it in your mind, there are lots of guides out there on how to do in a serious fashion. I'm just popping in to say don't overlook the fun and frivolous creative ways to peg out the foundations of a topic for filling in a more normal way or the dopamine hits you get when you make up ridiculous ways to recall specific details or terms.[2]

Yeah, anyway there was going to be another bit but its drifted away because I never plan these posts or draw up bullet points of what it is I plan to say and end up getting distracted by chess and physics and kids' TV shows, so do that instead and then you won't look like a complete buffon. Anyway the moral of the story was meant to be critically focussing on the work itself is better than having some la-di-da theories to chuck at it and here's why but also not that because that isn't actually true, so bollocks, honestly at the moment my brain is in one of its juggling six hundred ideas at the same time phases and sense is the last thing we're going to get out of it.




 1. Subscribe now for my new course "Learn the French Defence in Limericks"

There was a young fellow from France,
Whose pawn to e4 would advance,
Well, pawn to e6, Black replied,
White moved d4 to get both pawns aside,
Then Black's d5 begins the customary battle for control for the centre dance.
[1]
 1. Moving on to specific variations culminates in the rather more traditionally smutty one with the rhymes 'the Winawer, not for the beginner and put it right in her.'[1]
 1. Obscure chess jokes, never change Talulah.
 2. Seriously, in the filing cabinet of my mind is a whole bit on remembering what a lepton is, based on the similarity in sound to the name of the character Lupton from Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders (...if the spider leapt on his back he'd be charged up...think of three generations of the character sitting having dinner of various flavours....[1]) it goes on, because I had that rough outline of those episodes sitting in my head already to use to stick the various properties, no matter the farcical associations would make no sense to anyone else, onto them allowed them to piggy back so each time I pick up some book on Quantum Mechanics I can recall the term and then other associations formed and it makes it easier to navigate the work and over time the context reinforces the learning.
 1. The terms used in QM are as weird as the behaviour. Though since Quarks come from Finnegans Wake[1] what would one expect.
 1. The abnihilization of the etym indeed.

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2021, 10:35:23 PM »
the structuralist project failed for a lot of reasons, i think Chomsky's works were much more responsible for it ending than 'post-structuralists'. i don't think there was such thing as post-structuralism, it wasn't a consistent movement, just a bunch of philosopher who were grouped together after the fact.

Thomas

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2021, 10:42:08 PM »
Quote
Seriously, in the filing cabinet of my mind is a whole bit on remembering what a lepton is, based on the similarity in sound to the name of the character Lupton from Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders

Whenever I worry that I might somehow be ill-equipped to tackle looming subjects and acquire complicated webs of new knowledge, it's useful to remind myself just how much information I've managed to idly absorb about the political affairs of Gallifrey and Skaro. If I can reel off the minute specifics of Davros' motivations since 1975 without ever having consciously studied them, surely I can muster the mental stamina to one day understand whatever this Baudrillard bloke was on about.

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2021, 11:03:49 PM »
Art in Theory 1900 - 2000 (Harrison and Wood) is great. I love an anthology, me.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2021, 12:31:26 AM »
the structuralist project failed for a lot of reasons, i think Chomsky's works were much more responsible for it ending than 'post-structuralists'. i don't think there was such thing as post-structuralism, it wasn't a consistent movement, just a bunch of philosopher who were grouped together after the fact.

Yeah. I think post-structuralism is more moment than movement, in that after structuralism there was an explosion of what that had little to do with structuralism. Perhaps typified by Foucault's work being interpretted as either an endorsement of structuralism up until the 1960s, or a rejection of structuralism after that. When in his own opinion it had little to do with structuralism at all. I think this comes from the popularity of Derrida's "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences", starting with an explicit refutation of Lévi-Strauss, as an introductory text when it comes to French theory. Its not very representative.

At the heart of structuralism was a set of linguistic theory that turned out to be pseudo-scientific, however brilliantly contrived it was. I think this is probably more crucial to understanding its demise than the usual idea that it was psychoanalysis being pseudo-scientific that demolished it.

The language of diagrams and frameworks that Retinend talks about comes back in the 1980s though, with Bourdieu, Latour, Guattari, etc. I don't think France ever really got away from metaphors of networks, maps, etc. or the "map-territory" problem. A better distinction that structuralism/poststructuralism would be that until the mid-1960s the major concern was how to represent things clearly. After that, it was the idea of representation itself that was being critiqued. The focus on structures and signs otherwise runs through everything.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2021, 12:49:27 AM by Video Game Fan 2000 »

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #13 on: March 31, 2021, 12:51:25 AM »
I read a fair bit around structuralism/post-structuralism, but it was coming on for 20 years ago now. The only author who’s really stayed with me is Barthes, so I suppose that means he’s good, or at least comprehensible. As with a lot of thinkers and artists, for me the intent and the honesty of the project counts for a lot. So even if they get bogged down in the specifics, if there was rigour and craft to what they were trying to achieve then that should count for something. It’s easy to say someone was wrong in retrospect...

A bit tangentially, any love for Michel de Certeau here? I was very impressed by “The Practice of Every Day Life” in how it attempted to situate theory in terms of what it means for a human actually going about their life.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2021, 01:34:29 AM »
Academics are incapable of appreciating, understanding, or producing great art.

Of course, that's not an argument against learning more, but no need to feel intimidated by not knowing the lingo.

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #15 on: March 31, 2021, 08:10:32 AM »
Talulah! Great to see you.

It's me, none other than The Boston Crab.

Retinend

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #16 on: March 31, 2021, 08:15:01 AM »
the structuralist project failed for a lot of reasons, i think Chomsky's works were much more responsible for it ending than 'post-structuralists'. i don't think there was such thing as post-structuralism, it wasn't a consistent movement, just a bunch of philosopher who were grouped together after the fact.

I totally agree. At around the same time as the structuralists were being undermined by "poststructuralism", Chomsky was reimagining language itself as a tightly programmed "Language Acquisition Device" in the mind of every child. This took the limelight in linguistics (I would say it started a true "scientific revolution" in the humanities) and left anyone who was doing linguistics in the old-fashioned way defensive.

As I'm sure you know, it was also around this time - well, a decade before - that Wittgenstein had his change of heart, no longer wishing to be the poster-child of logical positivism. Now he was implying that anyone who still thought that way was naive and narrow-minded, with the publication of Philosophical Investigations in 1953. This was already bad news for structuralists and behaviorists, both very much in the logical positivist tradition, even before Chomsky and the poststructuralists came onto the scene.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #17 on: March 31, 2021, 08:29:58 AM »
I couldn't finish that Blindboy podcast because I found him a bit boring. Sometimes I feel there's a fine line between an interesting and informed conversation and something more akin to a lecture or data dump with a thin veneer of a conversation over it. Like Blindboy (hate that name) was ear fucking Adam a bit with facts, urgh.

As far as the point about being educated, I'd question what you want this knowledge for now and why you lived without it for the last how many years. Do you want to be with more educated people now and if so why did you not for the last few years? And if you were with these people for the last few years, how did you not learn anything from them?

Thomas

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #18 on: March 31, 2021, 09:40:05 AM »
As far as the point about being educated, I'd question what you want this knowledge for now and why you lived without it for the last how many years. Do you want to be with more educated people now and if so why did you not for the last few years? And if you were with these people for the last few years, how did you not learn anything from them?

It's not socially motivated. I don't want to hang out with Blindboy. I've just begun to take writing more seriously in the last couple of years, and thought I ought to improve my own awareness of how the things I read fit into movements and categories.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #19 on: March 31, 2021, 06:43:24 PM »
*sound of a cash register*

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #20 on: March 31, 2021, 08:11:20 PM »
I couldn't finish that Blindboy podcast because I found him a bit boring. Sometimes I feel there's a fine line between an interesting and informed conversation and something more akin to a lecture or data dump with a thin veneer of a conversation over it. Like Blindboy (hate that name) was ear fucking Adam a bit with facts, urgh.

As far as the point about being educated, I'd question what you want this knowledge for now and why you lived without it for the last how many years. Do you want to be with more educated people now and if so why did you not for the last few years? And if you were with these people for the last few years, how did you not learn anything from them?

I quite liked the Blind boy interview for that exact reason - I learned something (the existence of metamodernism) that I didn't know before.

Also don't understand why you seem to discount the possibility of just wanting to learn for its own sake or for personal artistic growth.

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #21 on: April 01, 2021, 08:31:43 AM »
I'm a touch-typist so I decided to transcribe the bit in question for the benefit of the thread (please excuse any typos or fragmentary sentences) source: 19:15-27:00:


BLINDBOY So I went back to art college in 2015 to do a masters degree. I did a masters degree in internet memes and critical theory and stuff like that. It was a away to understand art better at an academic level.

BUXTON That sounds fascinating! what kind of stuff were you reading about, then? I was at art college in 1990 - I started my degree then. Then, it was all "postmodernism", Baudrillard, signifiers, ...all that shit... were they still talking about that kind of stuff?

BLINDBOY I did quite a bit of Baudrillard during my masters around postmodernism but the thing is now - and it's something that informs my process now - some people refer to what "now" is as "metamodernism".

Simplistically, modernism is the post-industrial revolution period. When we started to put faith in science we started to believe science and truth could solve everything. We had cars, we had flying, but then you start to apply science to things like ... housing. These big council estates and you think "oh if we just put everyone there and give them this then everything will be okay".

Then postmodernism happens around the 1960s when humanity rejects the sincerity of modernism; the faith in science; and becomes ironic.

But right now they say that what we're living in is "metamodernism", which is informed by the internet, whereby we have sincerity and irony existing alongside each other perfectly. What I studied in my masters is how I believe that because we live our lives scrolling through our phones that it's made us quite literate in being able to handle sincerity and irony at once. Because if you look at your Facebook feed, you could have your friends wedding, then someone could share a horrible ISIS video, then you scroll down again and you've got some cats. And we have to be literate to do these things and I then tried to bring that into my own artistic process: I have a bag on my head and I look like a fucking clown. But while still being a clown can I speak about something as serious as mental health with sincerity and allow the humour and sincerity to exist next to the comedy in a kind of fluxus?

And that's what you call metamodernism and that's where people say we're at right now. And that's how you have people like Trump and Johnson who are effectively clowns, but they're also politicians.

BUXTON Give me some examples of modernist art and some pieces that would exemplify postmodernism.

BLINDBOY A good example of modernism in writing is James Joyce. Ulysses is seen as one of the greatest pieces of modernist art. What you see with Ulysses that would make it modernist; it was written around 1911; is that Joyce essentially was looking towards developments in science. So you had the new work of Sigmund Freund understanding the human unconscious mind.

Also, with James Joyce you had cinema; it was an emerging new art form; James Joyce actually opened up the first cinema in Ireland.[1]

So the way that language is written in the book, Joyce sometimes isn't writing the words as they come from a person's mouth - instead he's writing how the words form in the person's head before they come out. So he's looking at stream of consciousness there, he's looking at the Freudian concept of these unconscious forces that we don't fully understand from our childhood; our trauma; and these things shape what they mean.

So Joyce was incorporating the unconscious mind. You also see this in surrealism from around that time. Dali was looking at Freudian dream analysis and taking ideas from science; the sincerity of that scientific idea; and applying it on the canvas you see this with impressionist fuckin art: Monet.

The impressionists were the first painters who - the thing with painting is that oil paints were really cumbersome and difficult to make. When the industrial revolution came around; since the 1700; when tubes of paint began to be produced around 1820 for the first time artists could leave the studio and bring a little easel and all these oil paints in tubes out into the field and people like Monet started doing was look at the new science of optics and the science of light and trying to bring these things into their artwork and what they were doing was responding to the challenge to the new invention of the camera. You have a camera now that can take pictures of reality. What can painting do? Well with painting you can look at how light works.

BUXTON Yeah

BLINDBOY So those are all examples of modernist work: they seek the truth and sincerity in science and applying this to art and then what would be considered to be the moment of postmodernism dafter modernism?

BUXTON Most people talk about Duchamp and the urinal

BLINDBOY There you go. Duchamp and the urinal. It would be after 1916 because Duchamp was a founding member of the dada movement and that was founded in 1916. It was at the height of WWI. Art always reflects the society that it comes from so if you think of WWI, it was a very modernist war. It was a war of modernism. War has been around since humanity has been around; it's not new. But with WWI it was industrialized war: the machine gun, for instance. Previously you had at most a cavalry - it was "fair" war. But now you have a weapon that can kill hundreds of people in a second or bombs that can do the same thing.

So Marcel Duchamp - and this is why they say this is the birth of postmodernism - Duchamp's thing was - there's nothing as absurd as a gun that can kill a hundred people, or a gas bomb that can kill a thousand. This is as absurd or irrational as anything, and people are dying, so therefore I can't have any sincerity in my art. I must respond to the irrationalism of this modernist war with something equally irrational, so he said I'm getting an urinal and I'm putting it in a gallery, I'm signing it, and I'm calling it "art".

And everyone's head exploded: "what do you mean? where's the painting? Where's the sculpture? this is just a toilet that you've found and now it's in a gallery and you're calling it art? " and Marcel Duchamp said "yeah, this is art now".
 1. I never knew this, is it true?
« Last Edit: April 01, 2021, 09:20:16 AM by Retinend »

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #22 on: April 01, 2021, 10:03:51 AM »
The culture of the literary world is always a little more conservative than that of the visual art world for economic reasons. In order to make a living, it's necessary for a writer to find a sizeable audience, but visual artists who make objects only need to find one buyer for each item they produce.
 
Some writers who are interested in the avant-garde tend to lament this tendency: the talented novelist and essayist Tom Mccarthy has regrettably spent way too much time trying to carve out a niche for himself as a novelist who operates within the visual art world, and attacking the publishing worlds fixation on "sentimental realism", and not enough time writing fiction.

Personally, something I like about publishing's conservative tendency, is the sense of continuity that comes with it. An avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys had really nothing in common with, say, Rembrandt, whereas a wild postmodern novel like Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow can definitely be seen as operating within the same tradition as 18th century novelists like Fielding and Sterne.


buttgammon

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #23 on: April 01, 2021, 10:25:59 AM »
One of the reasons why we often look back at modernism as a golden age for experimental literature is that the economics were different - there were small networks of readers and writers, and a few wealthy backers who helped things along. Joyce was an interesting exception, because despite the fact that he leeched off the women who were his benefactors for most of his career, he also had genuine commercial sensibilities, and he put a lot of thought into the publishing and marketing of Ulysses because of this. Even before it was properly published, it was designed to be a collector's item.

The culture of the literary world is always a little more conservative than that of the visual art world for economic reasons. In order to make a living, it's necessary for a writer to find a sizeable audience, but visual artists who make objects only need to find one buyer for each item they produce.
 
Some writers who are interested in the avant-garde tend to lament this tendency: the talented novelist and essayist Tom Mccarthy has regrettably spent way too much time trying to carve out a niche for himself as a novelist who operates within the visual art world, and attacking the publishing worlds fixation on "sentimental realism", and not enough time writing fiction.

Personally, something I like about publishing's conservative tendency, is the sense of continuity that comes with it. An avant-garde artist Joseph Beuys had really nothing in common with, say, Rembrandt, whereas a wild postmodern novel like Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow can definitely be seen as operating within the same tradition as 18th century novelists like Fielding and Sterne.



Yes, this is something that I love too. Sterne is a great example, because his footprints are all over weird, exciting and unusual literature from the last century. I came to Tristram Shandy late (i.e. after getting into Pynchon et al) and I was amazed to see just how contemporary it felt. Speaking of Tom McCarthy, he's another one who owes a big debt to Sterne - things like the stain in Satin Island can be traced back to the blacked out page in Tristram Shandy.

This explains why I'm so in love with Finnegans Wake, as it's a book which is saturated in the literary tradition, but takes everything to the most extreme ends imaginable.

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #24 on: April 01, 2021, 10:54:25 AM »
I think that you hit the nail on the head when you call Joyce a "leech" - he survived on misplaced good will, not least from his wife and, in later life, his American heiress-benefactress  ...what was the extent of his commercial/marketing considerations for the book's publication? It was hardly a best-seller, as you yourself intimate.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #25 on: April 01, 2021, 11:26:27 AM »
Joyce was in debt for most of his adult life and though he did have a reputation for extravagant spending and luxury, it was mostly things like clothes. His family had to move from from place to place constantly due to lack of money his entire life, which got worse during the war where his brother was in an internment camp and then afterwards when his daughter's mental health became an issue. Contrary to popular belief he did work during the early part of his time in Europe and his relationship with an American heiress was very short (ended in one of the ugliest episodes of his life) - his main benefactor eventually was more concerned with his daughters well fair than his, as she sadly didn't care for Finnegans Wake.

He would have been classed as disabled by even the strictest government today. He had numerous health problems and eventually couldn't even read what he was writing without wearing a dentists jacket and standing in the window to reflect light. He couldn't have worked. But in the early days he was a clerk, a teacher, journalist. While he did have a bit of a reputation for extravagance the image we have today of James Joyce as flamboyant party animal who drank and spent his family into debt certainly comes in part from sneering stereotypes of a middle class irish native with ideas about his station - he undoubtedly is one of the all time champs of literary wastering in some ways but in hindsight also someone rapidly going blind and caring for a fractured family in the aftermath of World War I, which took any real hope of stability the Joyces really might have had. About 30 years later he might have had an academic career or published on philosophy at the same time as his big projects.

Considering Ulysses was published at the very beginning of global celebrity culture, its hard not to want to reassess. The things Joyce has been routinely damned for over the decades, like spending money on cultivating his appearance and retiring from teaching, now don't seem like such huge sins considering what we associate with fame on that global scale. And when you read people saying that stuff at the time, it usually comes with sneering comments about the Irish middle class or autodidacts. Its pretty astonishing when you read people talking about Joyce being irresponsible one minute then right after they're ooh-ing and aah-ing over things like Hemingways jetsetting lifestyle or the exclusivity of whatever art clique.

Quote
what was the extent of his commercial/marketing considerations for the book's publication? It was hardly a best-seller, as you yourself intimate.

He was incredibly superstitious and used that to his advantage: he was obsessed with dates, colours, words, coincidences, and was canny in using that to promote his work. Ulysses is maybe not the best example because he was focussed on the integrity of the final product, and the stuff he did to make it a 'collectors item' (he may have invented the 'launch party', gifting rare editions to influential friends, enormously influential 'seances', all that stuff) was at cross purposes with its reputation by the time it was done. Finnegans Wake, as it hard as it might be to believe, seems to have been focused on reaching a somewhat general audience and he published sections of it independently as volumes which might work by themselves. He wanted to publish short, illustrated versions from the longer volume. Also his health and eyesight were going to shit, and his daughter needed round the clock care so it became a case of putting it in as much of the work in interested had as possible. One the weirdest examples of his branding or graft was during the late 1930s when his health got particularly bad, he asked James Stephens to finish Finnegans Wake on his behalf (wouldn't have envied him this): the idea was a gimmick, that Finnegans Wake could be published with "JJ & S" (James, Joyce and Stephens) embossed on the cover - the Jameson's whisky markers mark.

He generally tried everything. Some examples include using his name as a journalist to import Irish tweed to sell in Italy and wanting to open a Joyce cinema in Dublin.

The culture of the literary world is always a little more conservative than that of the visual art world for economic reasons. In order to make a living, it's necessary for a writer to find a sizeable audience, but visual artists who make objects only need to find one buyer for each item they produce.

Joyce once complained that it Picasso could make a million by drawing one line but he couldn't pay the rent after writing a hundred pages. 
« Last Edit: April 01, 2021, 12:32:32 PM by Video Game Fan 2000 »

buttgammon

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #26 on: April 01, 2021, 12:18:27 PM »
I think that you hit the nail on the head when you call Joyce a "leech" - he survived on misplaced good will, not least from his wife and, in later life, his American heiress-benefactress  ...what was the extent of his commercial/marketing considerations for the book's publication? It was hardly a best-seller, as you yourself intimate.

Video Game Fan 2000 has already answered this really but one thing I'd point out is that the original editions of Ulysses were designed with financial game in mind. The controversy around its serialisation had already generated a lot of interest, and Joyce created three different version, including a very expensive deluxe edition. He was well aware that this would give them resale value too, and he even wrote to people at the time, telling them they should keep their copies because they would be very valuable in the future. He wasn't wrong either.

Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #27 on: April 01, 2021, 12:45:39 PM »
including a very expensive deluxe edition.

IIRC he spent ages agonizing over the different kinds of paper to be used in each one.

And there was a version which you had to buy if you want the corrections. Also a numbered edition. Starting the great tradition of 'revised' editions of Joyce just weeks after the first publication.


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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #28 on: April 01, 2021, 01:10:03 PM »
Alright. For the sake of balance, I'll offer the opposing argument regarding Joyce's non-literary legacy. His literary legacy is one that I agree is enormous, and this is indeed reflected in the care he took to have his work published in a manner that befit the grandiosity of the literary endeavor. Sure.

I still think that, however much one tries to polish up his image, Joyce was a good-for-nothing: like many drunks he had many grand plans and things up the pipeline, but at the end of the day he was work-shy and self-centered, working only enough to get by, and scrounging off of others whenever he could. True, he supported his family, but if he did so he also made them feel insecurity in equal measure: constantly running up exorbitant debts against whatever he had. These expenses were inevitably luxuries that benefited only him and his aristocratic self-image. These were comforts that were denied to him in the second part of his childhood; his young manhood, and this experience shocked his class complacency and hardened him to the world, without persuading him to ensure he did not repeat the mistakes of his profligate, drunkard father, John Joyce, who had cast the family onto hard times in the first place. A close friend of his said, of him, that he regarded life as a battle.

This lack of compromise in his nature meant that, always able to write about his favourite topic, a high preponderance of his works concern himself. Since, due to literary fame on the modernist scene, he had the financial means to make no compromise, he worked to his own standards. What's wrong with that, though? I would argue that, as a professional fiction writer (extraordinarily "qualified", so to speak), and in making no compromises to what he wanted to create artistically, he supported his family only to a fraction of the extent he could have. And if you support your family with a fraction of a lot, then you are worse than a father who supports them with everything of a little.

Upon her arrival there, he left his wife in the middle of a park in a foreign country with all her luggage with her, told her "Wait here: I'll be back soon" and, intentionally or not, ended up getting pissed and leaving her there all day. Can you imagine her pain at being treated so beneath contempt, and her fear that everyone passing by stared and wondered what she was doing; not knowing whether she would have to sleep in that park between her suitcases?

Between the lines, he resented his wife, Nora. She was of limited intelligence, certainly when compared to her "genius" husband. Joyce preferred to chase the "interesting" ones, such as the dark-eyed European muse of the unpublished "Giacomo Joyce", a further example of a tendency to self-fictionalize that borders on self-obsession.

He also lured his brother to live in his family home and follow in his footsteps as a Berlitz teacher in Italy, yet, through some combination of persuasion and threat, ended up confiscating his wage packets as the household patriarch.

There are also rumours of an untoward nature regarding him and his daughter, Lucia. Those who wish Joyce's reputation to remain untarnished can rest easy, because Joyce's grandson burned all of the evidence that would settle the manner (e.g. her diary and the correspondence between Beckett and Lucia, who were briefly romantically involved). Said grandson's excuse that he did it to quell speculation implies that there was nothing to hide in those documents, but he destroyed them anyway, which is a strange thing to do given the value of those documents - sentimental value, monetary value and value to literary history.

buttgammon

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Re: Intimidated by art: where to (re)start?
« Reply #29 on: April 01, 2021, 01:24:55 PM »
IIRC he spent ages agonizing over the different kinds of paper to be used in each one.

And there was a version which you had to buy if you want the corrections. Also a numbered edition. Starting the great tradition of 'revised' editions of Joyce just weeks after the first publication.



Yes, and the paper quality was one of the big determining factors in pricing. As we come close to the 100th anniversary of publication, it's weird to think that we've also had a century of cash-ins (e.g. an obscenely expensive 'corrected' Finnegans Wake Penguin brought out that was only ever available in a special edition that has been roundly panned by scholars).

Alright. For the sake of balance, I'll offer the opposing argument regarding Joyce's non-literary legacy. His literary legacy is one that I agree is enormous, and this is indeed reflected in the care he took to have his work published in a manner that befit the grandiosity of the literary endeavor. Sure.

I still think that, however much one tries to polish up his image, Joyce was a good-for-nothing: like many drunks he had many grand plans and things up the pipeline, but at the end of the day he was work-shy and self-centered, working only enough to get by, and scrounging off of others whenever he could. True, he supported his family, but if he did so he also made them feel insecurity in equal measure: constantly running up exorbitant debts against whatever he had. These expenses were inevitably luxuries that benefited only him and his aristocratic self-image. These were comforts that were denied to him in the second part of his childhood, and that shocked his class complacency and hardened him to the world, without persuading him to ensure he did not repeat the mistakes of his profligate, drunkard father, John Joyce, who had cast the family onto hard times in the first place.

This lack of compromise in his nature meant that, always able to write about his favourite topic, a high preponderance of his works concern himself. Since, due to literary fame on the modernist scene, he had the financial means to make no compromise, he worked to his own standards. What's wrong with that, though? I would argue, in making no compromises to what he wanted to create artistically, he supported his family only to a fraction of the extent he could have. And if you support your family with a fraction of a lot, then you are worse than a father who supports them with everything of a little.

Upon her arrival there, he left his wife in the middle of a park in a foreign country with all her luggage with her, told her "Wait here: I'll be back soon" and, intentionally or not, ended up getting pissed and leaving her there all day. Can you imagine her pain at being treated so beneath contempt, and her fear that everyone passing by stared and wondered what she was doing?

Between the lines, he resented his wife, Nora. She was of limited intelligence, certainly when compared to her "genius" husband. Joyce preferred to chase the "interesting" ones, such as the dark-eyed European muse of the unpublished "Giacomo Joyce", a further example of a tendency to self-fictionalize that borders on self-obsession.

He also lured his brother to live in his family home and follow in his footsteps as a Berlitz teacher in Italy, yet, through some combination of persuasion and threat, ended up confiscating his wage packets as the household patriarch.

There are also rumours of an untoward nature regarding him and his daughter, Lucia. Those who wish Joyce's reputation to remain untarnished can rest easy, because Joyce's grandson burned all of the evidence that would settle the manner (e.g. her diary and the correspondence between Beckett and Lucia, who were briefly romantically involved). Said grandson's excuse that he did it to quell speculation implies that there was nothing to hide in those documents, but he destroyed them anyway, which is a strange thing to do given the value of those documents - sentimental value, monetary value and value to literary history.

Despite expectations, I'm not going to challenge this at all; the biographical details often reflect a very difficult man who had a strange relationship with his family.

Lucia is really interesting here, but she also makes me uncomfortable. I'm not accusing you of doing this but I feel there's something distasteful in the way some people romanticise her, when we're dealing with a severely ill woman who died a long time ago and had a miserable life that was largely spent in institutions. There was a novel about her that came out a few years ago and it just made me uncomfortable, not least because it seemed to have a very reductive view of what mental illness is.

That said, there's clear resonances of her in Finnegans Wake (which was completed as she disintegrated, and while Joyce was gravely worried about her), and things which explore that can be interesting. It was such a sensitive subject for the grandson that he essentially vetoed the publication of a book that was going to deal with this. There's also an uncomfortable strand of incest in that book. I wouldn't necessarily connect the two things and generally try not to extrapolate stuff like that from works of fiction, but I can also understand the murmurings about it in this case.

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