Keeping Up With The (PhD.) Joneses
by Kasey Boone
When I picked up the February edition of 15 Bytes and read Jay Heuman's missive on the miscomprehended Clement Greenberg, a response to an earlier article on criticism by Geoff Wichert, I thought to myself, "Oh no, there goes the neighborhood."
15 Bytes had always been such a nice place where a decent person with an interest in things visual could lie down (well, if they have a laptop) and spend a few restful hours catching up on the local art scene. And then Wichert and Heuman had to go and stir things up with a battle over critical interpretation. Staring at my computer screen last month, I had visions of a bleak future: an onslaught of MFA and MA students rushing in to commandeer our beloved ezine, choking it with jargon and footnotes, and sloshing us decent hard-working folk down the drain with talk of Kristeva and Derrida.
And then when I learned that the ezine had been offered a preview copy of a new book on contemporary art thinkers -- would I be interested in reviewing it, our editor asked -- I was sure our fate must be sealed.
But, rather than hide away from the future, no matter how bleak or tragic, I decided to give the tome a peek. So, whether you want to be one of those young art critics viciously fighting it out for a room at the top of the art critical mountaintop, simply want to understand what the aforementioned are jabbering about, or want to help man the barricades to keep them at bay, I offer you Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers, edited by Diarmuid Costello and Jonathan Vickery.
Published by Berg Publishers (Oxford and New York), this collection of entries on forty-five philosophers, theorists, and artists, seeks to make accessible the arguments and ideas of some of the leading thinkers of our time in relation to the visual arts. Any such attempt will inevitably leave some readers disappointed by the omissions, but in this case I believe the editors should be lauded for their careful selection of important thinkers, both in Europe and America.
Editor Diarmuid Costello lectures in the department of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. Co-editor Vickery lectures in the Centre for Cultural Policy studies at the same University. Their positions should give a clear idea of the emphasis of the book, concentrating on the philosophical questions involved in contemporary visual arts and how they relate to larger aesthetic questions. The editors have chosen leading international experts to summarize and appraise their selected thinkers.
Costello and Vickery have divided the book into four sections. Section One, “Art Theory and Practice,” examines the writings of working artists, from Robert Smithson to Daniel Buren. The second section includes art historians and theorists who "have made, or still are making, the greatest impact on thought about art during this period." The third concentrates on philosophers who have written about aesthetics, including Theodor Adorno, George Dickie and Arthur C. Danto. The final section, “Theory and Philosophy of Culture,” reflects the diversity of thought about art today and draws on a range of disciplines, including sociology, semiotics and psychoanalysis. As you may have noticed, not all the thinkers surveyed here are exactly contemporary (i.e. living) but they have been included when their theories continue to have sway in our current dialogue (Jay Heuman will be happy to know that Clement Greenberg appears in section two).
Each thinker in this survey book is given equal space. In three or four pages, the experts chosen to expound on each writer provide a concise account following a consistent pattern: 1) establish the thinker's credentials and major works 2) discuss the main thrust of their arguments 3) assess the critical reception of their work 4) relate their work to larger cultural issues. Some thinkers fare better than others depending on whether a theoretical friend or foe is writing their piece -- but for the most part the writing is impartial and surprisingly informative. I wouldn’t say this about most books of this kind, but what I read made me actually want to go out and read some of the original source material (so far, though, I have restrained myself).
While written in relatively jargon-free prose that seeks to reveal rather than obfuscate, I could not recommend Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers to the neophyte; but for the student of critical thought with a basic understanding of the issues at hand, this collection provides a wonderfully concise view of the critical thought of our time.
Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers
Diarmuid Costello & Jonathan Vickery, eds
Publisher: Berg Publishers (March 6, 2007)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Information in this article taken from a summary provided by the Utah Cultural Alliance.
On March 5th the Utah Cultural Alliance held a Legislative Wrap-Up, the last of their legislative forums for 2007, which included speakers Carter Livingston, Kim Hale, Sabrina King
Carter Livingston, political consultant and lobbyist, commented that this year's General Session was unique because there were so many new legislators. He pointed out that a recurring issue at the legislature was ZAP funding: money that the public supports, but that many of the legislators want to re-distribute. The issue will most likely arise every session, but as other counties establish similar funding programs, the ZAP model may become more resilient.
Livingston pointed out that praise should be given to some specific individuals for their emphatic support of the preservation of the integrity of the ZAP program including: Representatives Sheryl Allen (Bountiful), Roz McGee (Salt Lake), and Stephen Sandstrom (Orem), and Senator Greg Bell (Davis).
Kim Hale, Finance Director for the Department of Community & Culture (DCC), highlighted several legislative requests by the department. One of the DCC’s projects, referred to as ‘Digitization’, is aimed at making the State’s collection of art and historical documents more accessible to the public. The original request was for $1.8M one-time funding. The amount appropriated was $1.3M one-time funding.
DCC’s funding request for one full-time Research Analyst was not granted, however the Pamela Atkinson Homeless Trust received $500,000 (of the $750,000 request), and the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund received $400,000 (of the $750 request) both in ongoing funds.
The Utah Heritage Foundation was granted $100,000; the State Library was successful at receiving $100,000 ongoing funds for Enhancement Programs and Development Grants; but the Utah Humanities Council did not receive any of the $35,000 they requested.
Legislative Intern, Sabrina King, remarked that she noted many comments from legislators during the Subcommittee meetings on the high number of organizations making individual funding requests. The committee members expressed that it might be more efficient to make larger appropriations to the ‘pass-through’ arts and cultural organizations, than for the legislature to be accountable for prioritizing the requests of all these individual groups.
Please inform yourself on the cultural and arts issues that were discussed in this year's legislative session and cheer or chide your legislators accordingly. To learn more visit the Utah Cultural Alliance website.
15 Bytes: About Us
Tom Alder is a banker by day but in his free time explores his interest in Utah art. He is currently working on a Masters Thesis on Henri Moser.
Cara Despain has a BFA from the University of Utah and is an artist and freelance writer.
Jay Heuman has an MA in Art History from York University. He is the curator of education at the Salt Lake Art Center.
Bren Jackson is an Art History major at Brigham Young Univeristy. Bren plans to gain a graduate degree in museum education and work with children. She leaves later this month to serve an LDS mission in the Brussels, Belgium/Netherlands Mission, Dutch-speaking.
Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.
Elizabeth Matthews, a full-time artist and part-time writer, is a recent graduate of the BYU art program and lives in West Jordan.
Shawn Rossiter, a native of Boston and graduate of BYU, lives and paints in the Sugar House area of Salt Lake City.
Geoff Wichert is a professor of Art History at Snow College, as well as a glass and multi-media artist. He has been writing about art for over 25 years in regional, national and international publications.
15 Bytes is published monthly by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization located in Salt Lake City Utah. The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 15 Bytes or Artists of Utah. Our editions are published monthly on the first Wednesday of the month. Our deadline for submissions is the last Wednesday of the preceeding month.
Editor: Shawn Rossiter
Assitant Editor: Laura Durham
Susan Harris is Associate Professor of Art + Design at Southern Utah University, where she has taught ceramics and sculpture since 1996. Prior to that, she was Artist-in-residence at the Alliance for the Varied Arts in Logan for 17 years and is a Fellow of the Council for NCECA. Her work is currently on view in four shows nationwide.
What hangs above your mantel?
My fireplace, down in the family room, is made of genuine Utah wonderstone, so nothing hangs there. But upstairs on my antique sideboard sits, front and center, a "Sterility Figure" sculpture by Georgia artist Don McCance. I've always thought that it can't hurt to have such a talisman in a state with our explosive population growth.
What is the most memorable exhibit you've seen recently?
Three weeks ago I was dazzled by Woody Shepherd's astonishing, colorful show of very large landscape paintings on exhibit upstairs at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Logan. He's most definitely an impressive artist to keep an eye on!
What is your favorite building in Utah (and why)?
I live in Cedar City, and our most unexpected and improbable building just happens to be my favorite: the lighthouse at the south I-15 exchange. Although incongruent here in the desert, the sight of it affords me a chance to reflect on my growing up years on Long Island and my many visits to Fire Island and Montauk Point, and all the lighthouses in-between the two.