Saturday, December 01, 2007

Don't make "statements." Make art.

AS FOR NEW YORKER critic Peter Schjeldahl's characterization of Chicago as a "receptor city" (Chicago Reader, November 29), what else is new? It was a New Yorker essayist, A.J. Liebling, who in the '50s penned a famously snotty work titled "Chicago: The Second City," painting this city as a dull, boorish backwater forever doomed to orbit the Sun of culture situated on the Hudson. I put it down to egomania coastalis  -- a curious delusion of many NYCers and LAngelinos that everybody wants to be them. If Chicago's greatest export is talent, surely New York's greatest export is hype about New York. Maybe we should cede the "Windy City" moniker to them?

But enough beating up on them. Schjeldahl was right about this: "The major product coming out of art schools is artists' statements." After seeing one conceptual installation show several months ago I was moved to write that "art needing lengthy explanation probably isn’t good art. ...Perhaps some of these folks should focus on writing statements full-time."

I say this from the perspective of a self-schooled artist (now "retired") and musician who taught myself drawing and piano and singing and composition because I loved doing those things and I wanted to be really good at them. Back when I was really into drawing, I did it purely from the love of creating. Want to make statements? Start a blog. Write letters to the editor.

Too much emphasis on theory, "concepts," and self-referential-statement-making at the expense of actual craft or substance, turns art into onanistic self-parody, the so-self-serious butt of jokes by regular folks who, despite their lack of sophistication, have a point. Kudos to Schjeldahl for reminding the emperor to cover up before he catches cold.