There are a few voices in my world who consistently ring true, like that neighbor who puts things back into perspective after a robbery down the street has everyone unduly fixated on urban crime.
Jerry Saltz is one of those guys in the art world, and I repeatedly find his “set it right” point of view a valuable balm applied to the latest hot spot.
Witness his response to the latest kerfuffle, the 60 Minutes defamation of the art world by Morley Safer as seen through art fairs, wealthy collectors and the circus that constellates wherever ego and money come together.
From Saltz’s response on Vulture:
Art is for anyone. It just isn’t for everyone. Still, over the past decade, its audience has hugely grown, and that’s irked those outside the art world, who get irritated at things like incomprehensibility or money. That’s when easy hit jobs on art’s bad values appear in mainstream media. A harmless garden-variety example aired tonight on CBS’s 60 Minutes (I didn’t know it was on anymore), as Morley Safer went into high snark. Never mind that he did virtually the same piece in 1993…
In tonight’s segment, Safer delivered cliché after cliché, starting with “the emperor’s new clothes…” He worried that the “gatekeepers of art” permit such bad work. He doesn’t know that there are no “gatekeepers” in the art world anymore, that it’s mainly a wonderful chaos…
Rather than really looking at art, he’s focused on the distraction, on celebrity, cash, and crassness.
Saltz moves beyond the repetitive and well worn issues raised by Safer’s piece and addresses the larger context. I like this framing of contemporary art:
Safer told Charlie Rose and Gayle King, “Even Jerry Saltz says 85 percent of the art we see is bad,” adding that he’d suggest that it’s 95 percent. Whatever. I wanted to tell him that the percent I suggested doesn’t only apply to the present. Eighty-five percent of the art made in the Renaissance wasn’t that good either. It’s just that we never see it: What is on view in museums has already been filtered for us. Safer doesn’t get that the thrill of contemporary art is that we’re all doing this filtering together, all the time, in public, everywhere. Moreover, his 85 percent is different from my 85 percent, which is different from yours, and so on down the line until you get to Glenn Beck, who says everything is Communist. No one knows how current art will shake out. This scares some people.
Roberta Smith‘s New York Times response to the Safer piece chimes in with another reminder of the larger view:
No one bothers to explain that even speculators and the superrich don’t stay interested too long unless they have some knowledge of and attraction to art, however you may disagree with their aesthetic choices or be put off by the outrageous prices they are willing to pay.
Have they ruined art? No, they’ve just created their own little art world that has less and less to do with a more real, less moneyed one where young dealers scrape by to show artists they believe in, most of whom are also scraping by. Mr. Safer should visit that one sometime, without the cameras, and try to see for himself, beyond the dollar signs. Either that or he should just come clean: He could not care less about the new or how it makes its way, or doesn’t, into the world and into history. That’s fine.
The obsessions of others are opaque to the unobsessed, and thus easy to mock. Nascar, jazz, baseball, roses, poetry, quilts, fishing. If we’re lucky, we all have at least one.
For those of us who are obsessed and proud to be, the energy just keeps returning to the essential: chop wood, carry water.