Art Quote for the Day

from the book,  Why Art Cannot Be Taught – A Handbook for Art Students by James Elkins

Teachers Make Idiosyncratic Pronouncements

All criticism-and some would say all discourse, including science-depends on “interpretive communities.” A  group of people who think along the same lines form a “stable interpretive community” meaning they will be likely to agree among themselves.  It may seem that the  ateliers of the French Academy were such communities, because it appears to us that they agreed on a single kind of art.  We might imagine that typical atelier contests would not provoke heated discussion, that people would either  agree on what works were best or else disagree in predictable ways . It seems that situation is no longer true today.  There are many ways to judge postmodern art, and many different short-lived schools and styles. As a result , we have “evanescent interpretive communities,” and no one kind of art is valued for very long.  But we need to be careful in assuming that there is more disagreement today than there was in the Baroque, or even that standards of judgment change more rapidly now than in the past.  The passage of time  collapses nuance, and it is not true that more people in the eighteenth century agreed more of the time, or that standards of taste took longer to change.  Then, as now, the judgment  of artworks depends on a consensus of like-minded people.

In a critique it sometimes happens that all the panelists agree. In that case, the critique panel comprises a stable interpretive community-stable, at least, for the duration of the critique.  Standards of taste or quality will remain reasonably constant.  When two panelists do not agree, it can mean that they are “representing” two disparate interpretive communities. To take an artificial example: one might like Andrew Wyeth, and another Joseph Beuys.  If the panelists are affiliated with two such radically different ideals , then you can expect many of their statements to disagree, and in addition you can expect them to disagree in some predictable ways.  In such a case the panelists are like ambassadors for absent interpretive communities.

One difference between the Baroque and contemporary art worlds is that today there are many more points of view.  There are more movements, more “isms” , in the early twenty-first century than there were in eighteenth century France.  The art world appears to change rapidly and contemporary artists can be pluralistic and work in a variety of media; but as a matter of practice, it is often fairly easy to decide what affiliation  a faculty member has.