Friday, November 19, 2010

Bad influence


Edward Skidelsky on how praise from critics may turn out to be no such thing:
More worrying is the popularity with art and other critics of terms such as “important,” “seminal,” “major,” and “influential.” These originally purely descriptive words are now commonly used as expressions of praise. This is bizarre, because there is nothing ipso facto praiseworthy about influence or importance. The Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer was undoubtedly influential; Stalin was very important. Moreover, all these words have the odd power of bringing into being the very state of affairs they describe. If enough critics call Anish Kapoor major or seminal, he really is major or seminal. By contrast, if they all call him good, he might still be bad. Collective infallibility is assured, at the cost of a debasement of critical vocabulary.
Skidelsky raises a good point, although his totalitarian references seem to confuse moral and aesthetic value – you can be a good artist and a bad person, or vice versa. But in any case, how would an artist (for which read writer, musician, film-maker, fashion designer, potter, conceptual taxidermist) react to being described as good, and yet insignificant?

5 comments:

Robert Swipe said...

Well, judging by the reaction to my last piece of conceptual taxidermy (a stuffed Yoko Ono sat on a very large inflatable rhinoceros horn, since you ask), I'm not only insignificant, but also crap...

(I'm just ahead of my time, I suppose... just you wait, one day you'll all be wearing wigs made out of blue plastic rope and a cashmere loin cloth...)

;)

xxx
Bob

Chris said...

Does he really confuse moral and aesthetic value? It sounds more like he is trying to detach both from popular opinion. Which is an attractive thing to contemplate, but the break can't ever be total. Good but insignificant art has only a one way conversation with culture, nothing reacts to it outside its limited sphere of influence. But maybe limited spheres of influence are where it's at these days, and the trend Skidelsky identifies is a slightly shrill throwback to a time when 'good' equated to influence across subcultural boundaries.

Tim Footman said...

Bob’s yearning to play Norman Bates in the Psycho reboot (probably directed by Uwe bloody Boll) finally comes to fruition.

Maybe I’m being unfair, Chris. But the examples (Der Stürmer, Stalin) that he chooses are better known for being bad (=evil, not sub-standard) than anything else, which is something you can’t really apply to Anish Kapoor. If he’d picked something that combines aesthetic value with moral corruption (the films of Leni Riefenstahl; art of the Cultural Revolution) it might have been a more interesting avenue down which to travel.

Robert Swipe said...

It's actually the *prequel* I'm in, Timster: The Path to Psycho...

;)

xxx
Bob

Chris said...

OK, I do see what you mean. The significance which can be conferred on an artwork is of a different type to the significance which is attached to an instance of genocide. Media-wise, it can seem quite similar - a story of either sort can catch on or be buried. Maybe we need some new words... It is kind of extraordinary that there isn't a distinction in English between those two senses of 'bad'.