to Bucking the Artworld Tide
This book is both a prequel and a sequel to Who Says That’s Art?
A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts, published in 2014. It
incorporates material predating that work, revealing some of the
thinking that led up to it, as well as numerous subsequent articles,
talks, and weblog posts that further developed its ideas. In all, it
represents more than three decades of writing and speaking on the
subject of visual art.
In that time, I have watched and commented with increasing
dismay as standards regarding the visual arts have continued to
decline in every cultural sphere, from academia and journalism to
museum management and K–12 education. Moreover, the breakdown
has been global in scope. With scarcely any exceptions, public
institutions the world over have uncritically embraced every variety
of “cutting-edge” contemporary work, however bizarre—heedless of
the extent to which it not only deviates from traditional art (and
therefore merits a different name) but also alienates many art lovers.
It is as if humanity’s cultural gatekeepers were afflicted with collective
amnesia regarding what made visual art valuable in the first place.
I share the view aptly expressed by the critic and art historian
John Canaday (1907–1985) that art is “the tangible expression of the
intangible values men live by.” Throughout my work, I have sought
to show how works of genuine art fulfill that essential function,
while the contemporary work that dominates today’s artworld (I call
it “pseudo art”) largely fails to do so. In addition, I have aimed to
explain why such expressions are important for both individuals and
society. Perhaps most important, unlike traditional work the “contemporary
art” that fills our museums and galleries does not speak
for itself but depends on reams of verbiage to explain it. Much of my
writing and speaking has therefore been devoted to debunking the
artworld spin on such work.
Many of the pieces included in this volume were first published
in Aristos, the arts journal I co-edit with my husband, Louis Torres.
They are reprinted here with the permission of the Aristos Foundation.
Four of them later appeared in somewhat revised form, with
expanded endnotes, in the Arts Education Policy Review, which has
kindly granted permission for those versions to be reprinted. The
only changes I have made in any of the work are minor—to correct
errors or stylistic infelicities, to clarify chronological references, or to
insert an informative note or two. No substantive alterations have
been made. In all cases, the publication history is indicated on the
first page of each piece.
The contents are organized thematically, rather than strictly
chronologically. Part I comprises material on art history and individual
artists—some whose work I admire, as well as many whose elevated
artworld status I question. Part II is devoted to a critique of “abstract
(i.e., nonobjective) art.” Art education is the subject of Part III. And
Part IV presents articles dealing with theoretical considerations.
Countless friends, colleagues, and relatives, too numerous to list
here, have offered interest and support over the years—which has
encouraged me in no small measure to stick to my guns. To them,
collectively, I extend my warmest gratitude. One person I must name
here, however, without whom none of this work would ever have
been undertaken. That is my husband, Louis Torres. He not only
introduced me to the theory of art that validated and informed my
intuitive sense that something was terribly amiss in the avant-garde
work that had come to dominate the artworld. He also founded
Aristos, the journal that first provided an outlet for my writing on art.
My debt to him on that double score is incalculable.
New York City
November 20, 2019