The Modernist shell game

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The Modernist shell game

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Jeffery LeMieux wrote:
I sincerely believe that the single quantum of art is a single selection. I think all art objects are collections of thousands if not millions of decisions, i.e., selections. I've been Duchamped!

The real question isn't whether something is art or not, the real question is whether it's good or not. There are many skillfully wrought things that I wold not call good art.

You keep saying that it is "not the question". What question is that? How do you know that it isn't "the question"? I think that it is a legitimate question to ask and one that can clarify a great many issues, particularly ones obscured by modernist theory. Of course asking whether a thing is good (art or not) is an interesting question as well, but you seem to be just waving off the question of whether something is art or not as though it is somehow unimportant, and I think that's a mistake. For one thing, as I see it, you can't know whether a thing is good or not without knowing what it is. A "good knife" and a "good screwdriver" can only be judged according to the kinds of things that they are. If I just said, "Here's thing 1 and thing 2. Which one is good?" you couldn't tell me without knowing what each one is for.

All selections exist on a continuum. We hold the best collections of selections to be examples of fine art, our highest and best expression of humanity. It's art, but is it good? Good is what really matters.

Good matters, but it is not the only thing that matters, and not all art is good. Nor are all good things art. You are really starting to get into an irrational tangle here.

I do see the problem with using the term art to mean every expression from the mind to the world.

I know. There's already a term for those things... "manmade". Why not just use that? It's FAR more clear and gets right to the point of what you are trying to describe. You could call everything that is not manmade "rocks" (since those are clearly not manmade) but nobody would understand or agree with that either.

I AM using the term in two ways, which is what I wanted to avoid. I simply despise the expression, "Sure, it's art, but is it Art?" I think the distinction in that sentence is at the center of what artists are about. But it is not captured by the phrase in any way.

Then why not just correct the question in a more direct way and recommend that people say "Sure, it's art, but is it good art?". Problem solved.

--Brian