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Wednesday, 02 October 2013


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The best example of "good" is probably the Barnes Foundation. What a collection!
(Unfortunately, on my one and only visit there, they threw me out because I had a light meter clipped onto my belt, and they insisted that I must be "sneaking" photographs.) D'oh!

What is the definition of "good art"? How do we recognize individuals who know "good art" when they see it?

I do think that Americans were exposed to a significantly higher standard of art in their photojournalism in, say, the 1950s.

That's one narrow corner of the field, and the art culled from photojournalism is perhaps a particularly weird form of art, too.

I sometimes think the reason we see so much bad photography is because it's an "art form" the basics of which can be acquired in a very short time, so that affluent people who are essentially interested in science or technology, but *think* they should be interested in art, can do something art-like. Hire some chick to take off her clothes, put the camera on "P," and there you are.

The fact is, art can be so absorbing as to dominate a lifetime, but it's not the only thing like that -- business, science, technology, farming, sports are all things that can be just as interesting and absorbing as art, and leave little time for the development of taste. I took a good golfing friend to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and he said, "I could go my whole life without looking at something like that." He was looking at a brilliant Van Gogh self-portrait. Not a dumb guy, either.

hear hear!

You only have to drive through a wealthy neighbourhood (or better yet, flip through the real estate listings) to see just how much bad taste money can buy.


p.s. the trouble with taste is that it varies from person to person. There are those who like broccoli and those who consider it beyond the pale. Who am I to say that those with the money have bad taste? Hopefully a nobody so I don't get sued for slandering some one else's taste I think is bad.

Part of the problem is that we're in another Gilded Age with the top 1% trying to impress all with private museums. Most of the good work has already been acquired by public museums, etc.; so they are forced to acquire the works of the overly marketed "artists" such as Koons, Hirst, Gursky. At some point those fish tanks and over-sized prints will achieve their actual level of work (as a hint of its true value, they don't float).

Dear Ctein!

The article was (as always) a wonderful read and I can add only a side note for those who think of themself having a taste for art, but don't have the money for aquiring an art collection. A way of making the "good stuff" rememberable for oneself in the future is not buying it (which we most likely do not have the money for, poor artists that we are), but trade.

I see so much quality in the works in our times, floating around at flickr and blogs, and occasionaly I would like to put more than a "fave" or "like" on an image. I ask the artist for a trade (for one of my prints or drawings). Guess what? That works most of the times.

This way, I am prevented for falling back into the nostalgia mood: I am eager to look out for new artists that have works I love (and do not have the recognition they deserve, most of the times). This "looking out for the new" keeps things fresh. I am not bored by our times, definetly not.

Best regards,

The McNay is indeed wonderful- excellent O'Keeffe, a very good Hopper, and lots more. But surely if we discuss the influence of the plutocracy on art, the Frick must be mentioned. Henry Clay Frick may have been poor at labor relations (significant understatement) but he was certainly splendid as a collector. While he was, almost definitively, nouveau riche, he had the good sense to seek very fine counsel (and the wit to use it). I do not say that the gift of his lovely collection to all of us absolves him of his considerable sins, but it was a good step in the right direction.

Dear Ctein, the rot set in during the late 1900's. So I would agree with you entirely, without retracting a word I said... ;-)

Can one be sincerely cynical? I think so....

Dear Steve,

In contrast to being hypocritically cynical? (G)

Yeah, the sincere kind is better.

pax / Ctein

North of San Anton, in Ft. Worth, the Kimbell Museum.

I beg to differ with Ctein's critique of The Legion of Honor in San Francisco. I think it's a beautiful museum in a grand setting which alone is worth a visit. It's collection spans centuries,eras,and artistic expressions. The Legion has brought great and continuing pleasure to many. We hate to hear one of our beloved institutions so unfairly maligned.

For those on the other side of the pond, another such great collection is The Burrell Collection in Glasgow. What is fascinating is that (IIRC) all its work was collected by Sir William Burrell in his lifetime.

He really did have an eye - it is absolutely to be recommended.

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be...

Taste is the "ghost in the machine" in the arts, and it hits the visual arts the hardest I think because it is mostly not time-based (that's changing a bit now). The effect of not being time based is that the work hits you all at once and just "hangs" there---one's perception of it gives the illusion of time being suspended (in photography, all that business about the frozen moment).

Taste can be developed. It is a bit of a talent, too. Some people have a discerning eye innately it seems, but I have seen taste develop among people as they mature (just think about your kids, or yourself for that matter) and learn more and are exposed to more things.

In periods and places where there is a "hard" stylistic current---Egyptian art before the Ptolemaic period, 18th century British both spring to mind---the stylistic conventions so narrow the operating field that taste and style seem to map over one another very tightly. In an extreme situation like the 20th century, in which experimental forms are thick on the ground, taste and stylistics have room to widely diverge. Furthermore, from the perspective of a viewer in a latter century looking backwards to all the former ones, once again taste and stylistics can have large divergences. The truth of that is seen in how certain periods and styles have fallen in and out of favor not only among the wealthy but also among academics.

But this is not to say taste is "just another opinion", any more than a Babe Ruth is just another athlete, or Churchill just another politician. Great taste is a situation in which some innate cognitive sense meets profound learning and finally wisdom. There are terrific technicians among the arts whose taste was/is suspect, and the same is true among other workers in the arts in academe and museums, as well as among collectors.

In its "ghost in the machine" aspect, then, taste is one of the things that keeps art mysterious, and that mysterious quality of the arts, the ineffable parts of it, are a huge reason those of us who are attracted to the arts turn to them for...mysterious reasons! People who aren't that interested in the arts fulfill that need some other way.

Have to watch both kind of TVs in Hong Kong. British TV is better on average. There is in general more character to it. But from time to time you get good one from US and as there are more US TV, it is sort of even out.

For proof that wealth does not necessarily lead to good taste, watch The Queen of Versailles. Excellent documentary on many other counts too.

Then there are those who stand out for their 'bravery' and foresight - Dennis Hopper upon purchasing certain pieces was challenged by his agent and told so "get rid of that stuff, or I'll be leaving and not be your agent any more". His answer was "Good-bye then". Upon his death we learn of his extensive collection of 20th century art ...

I definitely agree being rich does not mean they have good taste, they may have rich tastes for sure. Which isn't always the best thing for beauty but then again beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I grew up going to the McNay in San Antonio and it certainly influenced the way I look at art. I did a street shooting (non)workshop in San Antonio a few years ago and made going to the McNay part of the educational itinerary. Many Austin photographers were surprised to find such a deep and rich collection so close by. It's one of the remarkable private museums in the U.S.

I would agree with Andrew Hughes about the Burrell Collection. It's a magnificent collection and the building and park it's housed in enhance the enjoyment of it. Burrell was a capitalist who used the business cycle to enhance his wealth and give him time to amass his collection. He bought or built his ships during recessions as cheaply as possible. He then traded using them until he judged the business cycle had reached its peak, when he sold everything for as much as possible. He then went off round Europe collecting art until things reached the bottom and then using the money he hadn't spent he started again. He did this 3 times.
When I read Ctein's description of the Legion of Honor I thought about the private collections I had seen in the UK - some are very eccentric - but none are as bad as he describes it. Of course in the UK we are "blessed" with the class system and for a very long time the upper classes have been well educated in the classics, taken the grand tour etc. Of course the arriviste who wish to join the upper classes must at least ape their pretensions which may have headed off the accumulation of too much poor art.

The McNay is one of my favorite museums in Texas, a real treasure. I've seen some great photography shows their, too. I think of it as Texas's closest answer to Boston's Gardner.

And shouldn't this post be titled "The Cream ALSO Rises"?


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