FINAL: A Decade of Negative Thinking (part 1)

If there is any chapter in this book you should read, it must be this one. If I could just quote the entire final section, or record it so you could play it and listen to it out loud, I would, I liked it that much. Trite Tropes had two essays I fell in love with. This is the first.  Sculptures=Rachel Harrison.

Trite Tropes, Cliches, or the Persistence of Styles

So I'll just start by saying that this will be a long post because I just can't leave anything out.  Schor begins by talking about the usage of old styles, the recycling of styles and how styles like minimalism can covertly be in or out of fashion during any particular year. She talks about the patterns that are recognized on slide juries, "One hopes for someone who has something to say and who is at the same time engaged with the language of form. But this is the rarest thing." She explains that a range of styles from the last hundred years can be easily recognized by shorthand descriptions. Schor admits that jurors look for the level of newness of the chosen style.
 "Evidence of newer influence, or of recycling the correct, hip, sufficiently past style, as suggested by the October discussion on obsolescence, in the end looks better than sincere, though deadened rehearsals of older styles, even when one despises facility or pandering to market trends. Revealing the influence of Heilmann or Jenny Saville, Matthew Ritchie or Matthew Barney, Banks Violette or Rachel Harrison, at least marks the artist as being engaged with current ideas and contemporary culture."
This quote was especially interesting to me because it's one that recognizes imitation. If your work has evidence of influence from the correct hip artists, then at the very least you are aware of what contemporary art is.  Schor continues by going through a master list of descriptive words a particular gallery uses to categorize artists, and how, the more words you can attach to your art, the better recognized you may or may not be.  Schor moves on to talk about the importance of working through other people's art. 
"Certainly working through influences represents an established stage of an artist's development, and the ability to revitalize past tropes is an important aspect of a successful work.  In discussing his generation's relationship to abstract expressionism, for example, Chuck Close writes, 'Art students unabashedly worked through other people's work.  I mean it was not with any sense of irony, it was not 'appropriation'. We knew we were students and that was the way to learn-"
Schor begins this quote by talking about the importance of successfully using past tropes, that influence is incredibly important aspect of your work.  Schor then lets Close make her point that working through other people's work was always with the intention of learning. Working through other people's work was a process of learning by doing.  Then Schor makes a necessary dig at a lot painting,
"Stylized Picasso-esque figuration; street scenes that make John Sloan look postmodern; tenth generation Edward Hopper. And also gloomy academic realism, bored nudes-paintings where everything looks bored, even sneakers, lamps, apples, pears; compositions that call attention to nothing; representational paintings based on snapshot photography but where the nature of photography is not the subject of the work, and the photographic sourcing is masked in a clumsily deployed rhetoric of observation-based painterliness.  Desperate boredom- not the cool ennui that propels useful banal, emotionally uninflected works of artists who occupy and influence the high end of the spectrum or art production. Just boring boredom."
Clearly Schor is over it. Schor describes so much painting in this paragraph, most of which I imagine falls within a category of art school. Perhaps having a negative opinion of so much art could be a bad thing, but I think it's appropriate.  If your paintings fall into this category, reconsidering your strategy is a good thing. Schor then goes on the talk about how strange it is that artists are trying to say something meaningful, yet the work is absent of individuality and all end up looking the same.  She goes on about how strange it is that young artists will admire the popular artists of the time without considering who those artists were influenced by.  She goes on about styles, 
"Again, what is so notable in the persistence of styles is the generic quality of such tropes, the homogenization of quirkiness, so that the common phenomenon of throwing in extra symbolism in order to be creepier and more expressive than the next guy seems like a kind of anxiety that also reads as false speech, a sense of the unimaginative hidden behind the excessively imaginative."
Artists try so hard to be unique and different and yet still only emulate the same tropes as one another, what an oxymoron. Schor continues, saying that stylized styles are easier to commodify and are therefor looked at less critically.  Schor argues that since these issues are hardly raised, young artists don't get the idea there might be something there to think about, to imitate consciously and for cause, or possibly not to imitate. What a thought! Not imitating an artist for the sake of doing so, but thinking about the conceptual foundations of your work and imitating artists that you sincerely believe you can learn from. Big difference here, and a strategy that I personally have not seen enough artists do. Artists even imitating the imitator of bad art, vicious bad art cycles. Okay, so then Schor brings it home, 
"Again, I'm merely emphasizing the need for both conscious awareness on the part of the artist of the earlier and vanguard work in a chose genre, and some ability and willingness to analyze such styles critically. ...Everything has been absorbed but not necessarily understood.  People speak languages without knowledge of their etymologies.  Because artists are largely unconscious of the hybrid traditions they are working with, their work suffers.  It lacks the critical address of the conventions of such traditions that would be the signal feature of a work that would move the language of art forward."
 I mean, cheese and rice. Would it really kill artists to actually be invested in moving the language of art forward?  I once was a part of a discussion where it was agreed that artists put into the world whatever they feel the world needs, so why do so many artists feel that world needs more works that fails to indicate an understanding of the previous style being imitated? Why would artists feel the need to make work that lacks the ability to move art forward? Why would artists want their art to look exactly like many hip contemporary artist's work, only without the sincerity and honesty with oneself about such efforts? It's kind of gross. Schor really brought this chapter to an excellent end with her points about the need for conscious awareness on the part of the artist. Don't be lazy. Please.

OMG, the next chapter is just as great.  NEXT TIME. 

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