What Passes for Art

Recently I read three art reviews in the Village Voice. As usual these days, I was appalled but not surprised. I’d only be surprised if some critic somewhere had a connection with or a modicum of respect for art history, some small aesthetic sensibility, or made a bit of sense. In short, critics are incompetent; most are failed artists. They have nothing to say and no basis from which to speak. They have been responsible, more than any other group, for keeping alive the myth of the inscrutable artist who is great only because he is audacious and insulting, and better at conning the public than some other poor schmuck.   
Critics consistently promote ignorance, insult and non-thought, representing art as a hysterical activity no one in his right mind would want to be part of. They praise artists when they are freaks and perverts, but, assuming there are any to discuss, fail to tell us of the aesthetic qualities of their works. Critics have been getting away with this scam for so long now I wonder why any real artist wants to submit work for their perusal.  
Here’s a brief description of the work of those three artists lauded by the Village Voice:  
A pig farmer’s daughter takes the trouble to construct pigskin sculptures with real pig’s eyes in them that decay so quickly they must be photographed in order to even be seen. If ever the adjective “swinish” deserved to be applied to artwork, this is the case.  
Some impotent bastard stands in traffic, shooting pellets at balloons with box cutters affixed to arrows at sneaker shoestrings dangling from high wires; for this he gets called “vaguely socialistic.” I prefer to think of him as “precisely schizophrenic.” What’s socialistic, after all,  about shooting arrows over the heads of the workers? 
Somebody else who shouldn’t be given gallery space blathers on about some trumped-up theory called  “the iconic imagery of feminist art.” and because she is  actually able to apply paint to canvas in insanely obvious images, earns a good review.  
The act of creating this garbage art would be bad enough on its own, but its glorification by reviewers not worthy of the name is almost unbelievable. I say “almost,” because not too long ago virtually no one would have believed any of this garbage – the “art” or its glorification. But values have become so twisted that we’ve about reached the point where we can believe anything. 
Contemporary “artists” and “critics” say their goal is precisely to get us to that point. Given a population brought up with an incomplete and inferior education and a strong desire for turbulence (or, as we define it today,  “change”) its easy enough to get us to develop a taste for and swallow such fakery.   
Doesn’t making art involve inventing subtle interpretations of the world, rather than spewing out a confessional diary of one’s own contorted psyche? I sure think so. Don’t you? 
In the past, if an artist had mental problems, the art existed in spite of, not because of these problems, and no real critic would have ever suggested otherwise. But those folks are long gone. Today we find artists like the three described in the Village Voice and dozens of others like them being churned out of university art departments, making something they think is art, being praised for it by other failed artists, and getting rich on it. It’s a joke. But it is a joke that is more pitiful than funny.   

About Sally Cook

Sally Cook’s is both poet and painter. Her work in both disciplines may be described as idiosyncratic, representational and colorful. A recipient of a Margaret Eyer Wilbur fellowship, she has received several scholarships and awards for both her painting and her writing. Cook’s essays and poetry have appeared in publications such as The Barefoot Muse, Bumbershoot, The Chimera, Chronicles, Contemporary Sonnet, First Things, Iambs & Trochees, Lucid Rhythms, The New Formalist, Pivot, The University Bookman as well as in Pool and The Hypertexts. Featured poet in the fall 2007 issue of The Raintown Review, she was nominated by that publication for a 2007 Pushcart Prize. Her poetry may be seen at The New Formalist Press. Recent awards include third prize in the Best American Poetry Challenge II for her poem "As The Underworld Turns" and several prizes and honorable mentions in The 2007 World Order of Narrative and Formalist Poets Contest. Whether writing or painting, Cook keeps a sharp eye out for the psychological portrait. To quote her, "Art is a lonely path, and promises nothing. It is neither a group activity nor a special club for the over-educated. If weaving compelling images satisfies you more than anything else, then you are probably an artist or a poet. Good luck to you!"