I recently discovered Neoteric Art, a blog out of Chicago written by two painters, William Dolan and Norbert Marszalek. They conduct thoughtful online interviews on their site. This one is excerpted from one with the painter and printmaker Diane Thodos, who studied art criticism with Donald Kuspit and printmaking back in the early 1980’s at Stanley William Hayter’s Studio 17 in Paris.
I find it interesting that our influences include many of the same German Expressionists; artists like Kathe Kollwitz, Emil Nolde, Ernest Kirschner and others. I am especially impressed by what she articulates about the current state of work in the Chelsea, NY galleries and the absence of emotionalism in so much of today’s painting. No other writer on art criticism has even mentioned this ‘tamping’ down of exuberant expression.
Here is an excerpt from the Thodos interview:
NA: What’s the difference for you in the working/thought process between making a print and making a painting?
DT: The two mediums were always in a dialectical tandem for me. We are living through a time when the mainstream artist is expected to produce art that operates by the rules of marketing, producing a “brand” name that cannot be tampered with. This is a profoundly stifling system. I have chosen the opposite route by giving my work an organic basis to develop a self-determining course. I do not believe in “anything goes.” I study drawing the classical human figure on a weekly basis and my work develops from the tension between the human body and my interest in Modernist abstraction/expressionism: if you will, the aesthetic basis of Modernism. Both my paintings and prints use some degree of automatic line drawing and mark making: a bequest that comes from the Surrealist movement through my study with Stanley William Hayter in 1984.
….I have come to see my themes have a life of their own not unlike the way actors in a play interact to develop and deepen their character. From the buildup of these automatic lines and marks subconscious images emerge on their own terms, sometimes in fairly complex ways.
NA: You recently got together with Donald Kuspit in NY. How did that work out?
DT: We had a very engaged discussion about the current state of affairs in the New York art world. We discussed what is happening in Chelsea, the district where the NY galleries moved when they left Soho in the 90’s. Aside from a handful of exhibits I found the district had a predominately cold, regulated, corporate feel to it. I noticed a strong sense of “formatting” in the art: a glorified “graphic design.” It did not resemble, for all it’s pros and cons, the more dynamic varieties of art and individual dealer’s tastes on display in the Soho galleries throughout the 80’s.
NA: What is your take on the art world right now?
DT: The artists of tomorrow are being formed in the art schools of today, and to understand today we need to understand how we got here. Over the years I have observed a gradual moratorium put on importance of skill and subjective content within art, whether expressionist or traditional. This had been happening since the 60’s in conjunction with the growth of minimal and conceptual art. In general these movements that had the effect of slowly repressing and freeze-drying emotion. I have noticed that Expressionism in particular, that most subjective of art movements, has been deliberately excluded from the art world since the early 90’s. The last artists to reflect this were the German and Italian Neo-Expressionists and Susan Rothenberg in the US during the 1980’s. Certainly not all Expressionism from the 1980’s lives up to the greatest tension which art is capable of, but the overview was at least a lot richer than it is now.
This rigorous trend of banishing emotion from art persisted from the 90’s into the present. Ever more stringent and narrow models of influence, based predominately on Warhol and Duchamp, have been overwhelmingly emphasized in university art programs. This has extinguished the inherently intuitive and visual nature of art and replaced it with postmodern-based theory, fashion, design, entertainment, and kitsch culture. Like the political Neo Conservative labeling of “liberal” as a bad word, so has all sense of intuitive gesture or feeling, or even traditional skill in art been cleverly diminished through ideological browbeating and the misappropriation of French Deconstructionist writers as a power wielding rhetoric.
Unfortunately the numbing the effects of this ideological power grab has made glaring problems of exclusion look invisible, indeed nonexistent, from within art education and the art establishment. The situation in some programs has become so ideologically extreme that several skill-oriented teachers I know have discouraged skill-sympathetic students from applying to their programs. They wanted to save them the considerable expense and grief of entering a very hostile anti-art, anti-aesthetic, anti-tradition, even anti-historical environment which would be against the teaching of the very subjects the applying students were interested in.
Furthermore I find it hard to imagine that out of the hundreds of thousands of artists living in New York City when 9/11 occurred there has not arisen within the mainstream any kind art that is capable of expressing a profound reaction to this traumatic event, or its turbulent aftermath over the last 7 years. The difference is dramatic when compared with the Modernist response to their own era a century ago. This strange silence is testament to a real inadequacy within the art world, a sign of irreparable breakdown. I am concerned how that very insufficient world poses itself as a sterile model for our current system of art “education.” Arthur Miller had once stated in an interview from the early 90’s that great plays were no longer written was because the “good enough play” was no longer being written. Similarly the drastic (postmodern) attrition of, and undercutting of support for any basis of value on which to cultivate a genuinely creative art world has derailed the context by which anything truly significant can arise or even survive.