Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Generation Blank: Better than alright

July 3, 2011 - 10:33am -- Carol Diehl

Jerry Saltz’s piece about the Venice Biennale (here and in a previous post), with which I agree 100%, stirred generational debate on a grand scale.  Many, (like Kyle Chayka) failed to notice that Saltz's brief is with the system rather the generation itself, but Mira Schor isn't afraid to state, “I don’t trust anyone under thirty! under 40, even under 50! the farther you get from the generative decade of the 60s and yes the 70s, the worse it gets….”

Ah, the old Generation Gap, and the realization that the young ‘uns are—guess what?—NOT LIKE US. And thank God for that!  Although it’s crushing to think that someone who knows what I know is out there walking around in a 25-year-old’s body, the younger people around me are generally more aware, alive, knowledgeable, commonsensical, clear-headed, conscious, emotionally astute and spiritually evolved than I was (I'll speak for myself) until just about ten minutes ago. I find I have more in common with many of my former students than a lot of people nearer my age, and often turn to them for advice.

And they should be remarkable! They were raised by US—and hit the ground running. We worked to build a world that embraced difference and diversity, and they’re living in it. Of course there’s still much to do (many, especially those who allow themselves to be brainwashed by the news media, seem to forget that the world is not, has never been, and may never be, perfect) but it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come. Up until the 60s there were laws against interracial marriage, yet in our family and among my sons’ circle of friends, mixed marriages are not the exception but the rule. Normal. As I’ve often said, gay marriage is an issue now not because so many people are against it, but because so many are for it. The recent sex scandals? Spitzer, Strauss-Kahn, and Schwarzenegger are men of MY generation who seem not to have noticed that times have changed and they can’t get away with that shit anymore.

And if there’s less divorce among couples of a certain demographic, it’s not because they’re suffering through marriage for the sake of the children, as many of our parents did, but because their relationships are so much more well-chosen, honest, expressed and committed. And their children? The little ones coming into the world now are observant, intelligent, and wise beyond their years. If ever you feel that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and need cheering up, just have a conversation with a five-year-old.

Maybe the personal really is the political, and these people are changing the world through the quality of their lives.

However the art—at least most of what we see in museums, galleries and coming out of art schools—SUCKS!  Yet WE have been behind the institutionalization of the art world, calling the shots as it went from a “scene” to a “system.” As educators, writers, curators and art dealers, WE have decreed that art must always be young, innovative, have some kind of social agenda, and look a certain way. Could WE be responsible for this malaise? After all, WE are the choosers. WE are in charge. 

Meanwhile, the music of the current 20, 30, and 40-somethings is thriving. They, too, are mining the gold that was the 60s and 70s—they did, after all, grow up listening to the Beatles—but where visual artists make denatured, watered-down versions of earlier tropes, musicians synthesize and build upon the past to create sounds that are completely theirs and of the this era.

If you listen to MGMT (led by a duo who graduated from Wesleyan in 2005), for instance, it all sounds slightly familiar and then not, and each reviewer cites a different main influence—Bowie, Eno, Pink Floyd, Joy Division and endless others. Arcade Fire’s sound never would have existed without the precedents of not just Radiohead, but Springsteen and David Byrne (who Radiohead was no doubt listening to as well).

And everyone sounds like Neil Young, except they don’t.

It's not coincidental that this flowering of music has coincided with the de-institutionalization of the music world (where WE, in the form of music company executives, were the gatekeepers), and that the institutionalization of the art world has brought stagnation.

[As Frieze’s Dan Fox asks, in a thoughtful interview with music writer Simon Reynolds, “Will the idea of constant innovation one day seem quaint?”]

Perhaps it’s time for visual art to become more substantial, developed, meaningful and mature.

But, you may ask, isn’t there a contradiction here? The music you admire is hardly “mature.” If you associate the word with age only, it may not be, but unlike the half-baked art of the same generation, it’s definitely developed. Here I take a stance based on the concepts in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (including the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery) to note that while most would-be artists are just finding themselves in graduate school, generally their rock musician counterparts have been at it since they were 13 or younger, which gives them quite an edge. Not to mention that no one can match the focus of an obsessed teenager!

Prodigies like Picasso and Basquiat? They may simply have started earlier.  [A friend who was Basquait’s kindergarten teacher at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn still has a copy of the report card where she wrote: “I just let him draw.”]

So yes, the kids are not just alright [sic], they’re impressive.

But those flip-flops they wear are ruining their feet.

MGMT’s “Siberian Breaks” (from the album "Congratulations") is my favorite song from 2010 (at over 12 minutes, also the longest), and while this version clearly lacks the polished production and sound quality of the recording, the modest in-studio performance gives a more direct sense of the spirit that went into it. And I love KEXP--that station and KCRW's Eclectic 24 are my main sources for music..


So reassuring in so many ways. You have pointed out things about my generation that even I wouldn't have believed. But you seemed to prove your stance. I am not entirely on the same page with you over music's development (instead I would argue that contemporary literature has the true homage to its forebears while still being modern and mature) but I certainly agree with the changes needed in visual art.


Enjoyed the article you penned about the crap seen in galleries and museums.

I couldn't agree more.

Who would pay to own such miserable brain droppings, who has sustained our world with the notion that this is somehow worthy of our viewing experience, that we can truly share in the artists consciousness as they created the piece. Well, the answer to this is plain. Why, it's called marketing.

As I look around the net, to find galleries that I would be interested in showing my work in, I usually have noticed that there are (galleries), so many out there that carry the same, re-done, re-mastered, nothing new here or of interest, totally boring, why am I wasting my time in viewing the work on their walls or on tiny pedestals. . . galleries, and have you noticed, that one after the other carries about the same sort of style?

Pure dreck!

But, I can rant all day long and not move an inch forward, so congrats Carol on your article, and if you would like to see some of my work, I would be most interested in showing it to you.

Happy 4th and buena suerte.



The URL provided, does not show the most recent work.

Being a recent-ish grad school grad, I'd suggest that the Big Idea presented in schools (or at least my school, SVA) is the idea that you have to be part of the "dialogue" of the contemporary art scene. To be relevant, your work must somehow be a reaction to what you see going on "out there" . . . never mind if you're bored shitless by all of that. But I think the idea of art world success--recognition, exhibition opportunities, money even--causes a lot of students to aim their work at that all important dialogue.

It's a rare teacher that wants to help you find your own path--I had a few that did their absolutely best to help me get somewhere: Kenji Fujita, Petah Coyne, Lucio Pozzi, and Gary (ah, I can't remember his last name, Carol, but I think he invited you to speak to our class once during the 1rst year seminar.) Most often, you got one of two approaches: 1.) The teacher came in to your studio and told you to stop doing what you're doing and do something completely different (if you're painting, make video; if you're doing video, work with fabric, etc.) or 2.) the teacher came in and simply told you what they'd do with your work if they were making it . . . "What I'd do is . . . " Neither approach is particularly useful in helping your work along. So between flaccid instruction and the incessant "dialogue" mantra--and I'd throw in as a factor the relentless exhibition schedule of gallery shows, art fairs, etc--I think you get a lot of tossed-off, under-thought work that is invariable buttressed by references to the "dialogue"

As for this generation's music--well, the old structure has been torn down and there isn't anything like the "ART WORLD" in the music world. There is no longer anything resembling a hierarchical structure in place when it comes to distribution--music is ubiquitous in a way that visual art won't even be.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Art Grad School made me want to never be a part of the art world, ever.again. Superficial, verbal masturbation;sucking up to people's stupid egos. Not to mention everyone thinks they are so fucking smart; not a humble bone in their ivy league stone hearts.

The original "Generation Blank" post got me so worked up (not a bad thing) that I had to open up my own blog just to get my response out of head. This follow-up post touches on some of the concerns I had after reading the Saltz piece. My initial response is here, by the way.

It was great to see a follow-up. Thanks for posting.

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