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man & nature # 114/115 ~ my old shovel

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Rusty shovelclick to embiggen
I sit here awaiting - with both baited morning breath and my eyes peeled - the arrival of the UPS truck and my new shovel. As can be clearly seen, I am in desperate need of a new shovel.

However, as the UPS truck usually does not arrive until mid-afternoon, I'll have to make do with the one I have. And while the temptation might be great to use it to fill in the hole that our Resident Contrarian has climbed into, I'll use it instead to clear away a little of the crapulent debris that has emerged from that hole.

To wit, the question, re: art rising to the level of Art, to which the answer is so blatantly obvious that there is the temptation to treat it as either facetious or rhetorical but, nevertheless, here goes ...

Paul asked ... "when, exactly, is this magic level reached? And who decides when it's reached? Is it you? Or is there a group of ELITE ART Arbiters out there who meet monthly and vote on it?"

And, while we're at it, lets throw in his related question re: the chosen few:

Who gets to choose? More importantly, who gets to say that they have been chosen? How does one find out that they are among the ELITE?"

The answer is both obvious and simple - over time there have always been "deciders" that have ranged from the Medici and the Vatican (amongst other elites) during the age of Renaissance Art to the museum curators and gallery directors (and to some extent, collectors) of the modern era.

And, like it or not, in the field of human endeavor that has come to be called Fine Art (as opposed to Decorative Art), the process of selection has never been a democratic / populist one. Quite to the contrary, the deciders have almost always been from a class of elites. The selection process has never been a perfect one. The deciders have missed some, deliberately overlooked others, and picked some genuine stinkers, but, the Great Decider, aka, Time, most often corrects those mistakes.

A perfect and rather obvious example of a decider / elitist in the Photography Division of Art is Alfred Stieglitz. Is there any question that, through his life-long commitment to the Arts and photography in particular, "as a great photographer, as a discoverer and promoter of photographers and of artists in other media, and as a publisher, patron, and collector – he had a greater impact on American art than any other person has had." (from Richard Whelan ~ Stieglitz on Photography: His Selected Essays and Notes)

But, hell, Stieglitz is dead and gone. If anyone in the Rochester, NY area needs a somewhat more living / breathing / in-the-flesh example of "who decides", they can just wander on over to the George Eastman House, the Memorial Art Gallery, or the Visual Studies Workshop and ask to speak to one of the curators - anyone of whom decides, on a regular basis, who and what is in or out.

Or, if that proves to be too elitist for them, on a more proletariat / populist level, they could head over to a local Borders bookstore to see if they display local art in their coffee shop - the one in my area does. I guarantee that they will have a decider regarding what's in and what's out as well.

Posted on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 09:30AM by Registered Commentergravitas et nugalis in | Comments4 Comments

Reader Comments (4)

On the topic of shovels, about 4 years ago in October, our dog Moondog died. He had been slowing down, and was getting on in years, because we had gotten him as a pup soon after we met. We even named him after the bar where we met.

It was a sad day, needless to say. We decided to bury him in the yard. When I arrived home, the most beautiful hole was back by the garage, deep, square sides, with a tidy pile next to it.

I asked Gravitas who had dug it, and he said, "of course I did." I was surprised, becuase up until that point, I had not realized he knew how to work a shovel.

PS. He promptly forgot what the thing was for after doing his duty for Moondog.

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthe wife

No, the questions were not rhetorical. Nor were they facetious. And no, you haven't answered them. You've provided a wonderful (albeit "obvious") explanation of how a photographer and his work get "Recognized", but precious little in the way that same individual joins the "Elite" (remember, that's your term, not mine).

Based on your post, I'm also assuming that your definition of "elite" is not the one that applies to that segment of the population that is sometimes referred to as elite because of their economic and social status. The context of your statements strongly suggests that you're referring to the elite as those with superlative talent, the cream of the crop, the superachievers, the best of the best.

It goes without saying that someone can be afforded recognition - even on a national scale - without being "the best of the best". Sarah Palin received national recognition, as did Joe the Plumber and the Octuplets Mom. Some "Decider", coupled with the flow of events, placed them squarely in the public eye. But are they members of an Elite group? That, in my opinion, would be a tough sell.

You can, of course, be both recognized and a member of the elite. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. Derek Jeter. Why did I pick sports examples? Because there are ways to measure these individuals against others in the same competitive arena. In each case, there is an array of statistics with which to make direct comparisons. Statistically, for example, I can demonstrate that the golf scores of Tiger Woods (to this point in time, anyway) are detectably better (lower) than anyone else's on the PGA Tour. No one else can make that claim. It is, in other words, an argument I can make with hard evidence. The man is in a class by himself.

But there are no below par scores, no triple -doubles, no golden gloves in photography. Everything is subjective. So while the curator of a museum or gallery or a manager at the local Border's or even Stieglitz himself can offer recognition, they cannot make you a member of the "best of the best". No one can. There are no "deciders" - only people with opinions when it comes to making qualitative statements about photographers and their work. Even time doesn't qualify as the "Great Decider". Photographic history, like political history, contains examples of revisionism. Our view of the past is most heavily influenced by our experiences (and beliefs) in the present.

Forget the shovel. I've cancelled the order. According to your wonderful wife, you've forgotten how to use one anyway (probably explaining why the one in the picture is broken). Instead, I'm looking into used backhoes....

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Maxim

"Who gets to choose? More importantly, who gets to say that they have been chosen? How does one find out that they are among the ELITE?""

Elite: making a show of knowledge but often time not possessing it. And as Oscar Wilde said: "All art is quite useless."

My only criteria for judging art is simple. Does I enjoy it? Does it move me? The rest is just futile.

Want to know more about Art itself?

David Hume, scottish philosopher wrote "Of the Standard of Taste". (1757)

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

"The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth-century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth-century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndre

Sorry for the poor grammar! Of course "Does I enjoy it" should read "Do I enjoy it"

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndre

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