Friday, February 06, 2009

Minimalist Art

Quick story, then I'll leave you guys for the weekend.

Friend of mine and I are driving through Minneapolis. We come across Ghetto's in the Sky, my former residence and he says,

"You know, you can just tell architecture from the 60's or the 70's because it looks like utter sh!t."

Which then prompted me to share a theory I had about 60's and 70's art and architecture in general. That the reason everything went from ornate Roman architecture, or stylish 1940's downtown New York American architecture to utter crap was that the people designing the stuff in the 60's and 70's were basically lazy bums who had no real talent. That "minimalist" art (otherwise known as "crap") came about as Baby Boomers who had rich parents didn't have to work for a living, but to make themselves feel good became "artists."

Now, normally the free market would punish their wretched abominations of "art," they would starve and hopefully find another profession...or just plain starve. However, this original set of trust fund babies had rich parents, and to make their "children artists" feel good about themselves (or just give them some make work) the parents would buy not only their children's art, but other parents' childrens' art. ie-it became a club of pity where artists who had no real skill, but had connections to the upper classes, could throw "parties" and "openings" to display their "ground breaking art" fully relying on the heart strings of their parents to buy their crap. And arguably, not just the heart strings, but the fabricated pride a parent would have being able to say, "My son is a great artist."

Thus the minimalist art form was born.

Now I know this is a theory. A theory formed from observation that during the 60's and 70's art and architecture went to sh!t. A theory formed by looking at "art" in the Walker "Art" Museum and realizing I could create half the crap on display. A theory also derived by noticing the Walker Art Museum is in the foothills of elite, babyboomertrustfundbaby central; Kenwood, and would basically be the playground all the Mark Daytons of the world would play in with the other talentless children of Kenwood. But I'm wondering if I'm right.

Does anybody OUTSIDE THE ART WORLD (ie-not biased) know the history of minimalist art and how on God's green earth such crap ever got popular in the first place?


Anonymous said...

Modern art sucks too. Most of the stuff in between also sucks.

If you want to find something with artistic merit, look for something that was created to compliment something else rather than a piece of art created for its own sake. Illustrations accompanying a story, images from movies or even *gasp* video games and anime can have surprising aesthetic value (of course, not always). I assume the difference comes because professionals who have a boss and are working as part of a larger project can be told, "This sucks, do it again" instead of just going with their own judgment.

CMY said...


I agree that some of the architecture from the 60's and 70's is crap.. but some is also really, really great.

The problem (as I see it) is that you equate elaborate and realistic with artistic.. but in minimalism, less is more.

I thought you'd actually be a fan of it; it's like a a finely honed, lean-and-mean budget where all of the essential elements are properly accounted for and there is absolutely no fat. It leans more towards beautiful engineering than anything else.

What you may see representing this is actually a cheap knock-off of the idea, without any thought put into colors, tones or harmony with the surrounding area. I see it all the time, and it's as absurd as it is ugly.

Anonymous said...

This hypothesis of yours comes of knowing remarkably little about modern American cultural history.

Personally I don't like Bauhaus architecture but the sweeping of American construction with Bauhaus in the 70's has a lot of artistic motive behind it. It does leave behind some (in my opinion) hell of ugly stuff though -- ESPECIALLY on say, old college campuses where you had a lot of stuff designed with nice classical features and suddenly in the 70's they made a lot of Bauhaus that didn't really fit in, then went back to the previous aesthetic.

If you actually want to know about this then Tom Wolfe wrote a hell of entertaining essay about it in the early '80's which is a good place to start.

"Look for something that weas created to complement something else" is terrible advice. Sometimes you hear a movie score and it knocks you out -- sometimes. But the best of it doesn't compare to the best music recorded as music. Same for painting. Architecture, I'd say the same applies but there are different concepts of what the total art piece is: it could be a cathedral or a city center.

Anonymous said...

Thats an interesting theory, but I don't think it goes far enough.

The sixties were truly a breakaway period from previous standards, notably in music and fashion, the truly awful seventies were a lot of "me-too, follow anything that is crap" eg clothes, music, cars,politicians, buildings, "art", morality. Its just like everybody gave up from making the effort to produce anything of worth.

Architecture unfortunately attracts fine-art types that cannot make it in the salons. Unfortunately for the world their stupid ideas blight the public spaces far longer and are far more visible than any real artistic works.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis, Cap'n.

There's an ironic flip side to your story though, one told by Thomas Wolfe in his book "Hooking Up". The Modern Art/Achitecture movement rewards crap, as you note, but cannot fathom real talent. It's the Ellsworth Toohey character in Rand's "The Fountainhead" becoming reality.

Wolfe tells the story of Frederick Hart a talented sculptor pointedly ignored by what passes for the art community. He sculpted the "Three Soldiers" statue at the Vietnam Memorial in DC, a sublime statue that offers a stark contrast to the Maya Lin eyesore of a wall. (Wolfe's terse description of it, "Absolutely skillproof", is both hilarious and spot on.)

Hart spent eleven years on a statue of creation "Ex Nihilo" a hugely ambitious work at the National Cathedral. It was completely ignored. Meanwhile pointless bullshit, Mapplethorpe plus others, is lauded. As long as you get exposure in a NYC gallery, nothing else matters.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how this fits into arts and architecture, but one of the things I've noticed is how new bridges in MN cities are now being built with some element of style, rather than the "Minnesota Utilitarian" (non) style commonly associated with 1950/60/70 decades Interstate highway overpasses.

Good examples of this are the new interchange south of the new Best Buy HQ and all the new sound walls and overpasses in Rochester on Hwy 52.

Anonymous said...

If you need to be an art connoisseur (pronounced "snob") to appreciate something, it's not good art. It's a circle jerk for artists, which is not the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Again -- try learning a little before speaking. Points:

Bauhaus isn't from the '60's. It's from the '30's. It just got used in America a lot at that time.

Dissing the idea that learning about something makes you better able to understand it -- I didn't know "Sarah Palin" was spelled "Ryan Fuller."

THe Tom Wolfe article was called "From Bauhaus to Our House," and, mhowell, people don't write "Thomas Wolfe" for "Tom Wolfe," OK? NOT THE SAME GUY. By a damn sight.

Anonymous said...

I stand by my point that artists creating a piece of art that can only be appreciated by other artists is nothing more than professional wankery.

A good artist is able to create something of aesthetic value that impacts an audience whether they share his profession or not. It doesn't need to be vulgar and aim to appeal only to the lowest common denominator, but good art is art that speaks something to an audience outside of the ideologically inbred population of professional artists.

I am not advocating ignorance. I'm saying that art is supposed to evoke a response in its audience and that artists who are incapable of doing that in people who are not already professionally devoted to art are failures.

RR Ryan said...

Tom Wolfe explains both phenomena in "The Painted Word", and, "From Bauhaus to Our House". I hope I got the titles and spelling right.

Anonymous said...

Interesting theory - apart from most of the artists who came up with minimilism were from working class backgrounds and came to art through the art students league and the new deal, both of which were schemes that were about as socialist as America ever got.
As for you disliking 60's and 70's architecture most of that was influenced by the Bauhaus, a 1930's german school which sort to promote art and design which would be beneficial to society - it was eventually closed by the Nazi's for having communist links. And also the idea of the free market 'punishing' either of these seems bizarre - capitalism is based on suppply and demand, neither of which have a basis in morality - something which would be necessary for it to wish to 'punish' any suppoed wrongdoers.