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Notes Toward the Governing of a Future Literary Journal
– Sept. 22, 2012

A thought come from rolling through blogs of contemporary fantasy artists, which made me think back about my last visit to the High Museum of Art (in Atlanta). (Originally from the Tennyson blog.)

I will say to any who might ask, I was amazingly disappointed by the standing collection on view at the High, last I went. Most of it was there primarily because the artist had come to some renown, even though most of it was, in truth, quite trivial. I am thinking especially about a huge piece by Alex Katz, which was little more than a fairly competent reproduction of wallpaper. Not only was it technically boring, but were one to try to describe the psycho-emotional sentiment created from the work (and this applies to most of his work one finds in the High), the most accurate would be “amazingly trivial.”

Ten minutes on a blog of contemporary illustration or fantasy animation and you will find plenty of work of greater creative explosion and sophistication. How then does Alex Katz merit using up so much wall space, when there are many many people out whose works merits, in the least, an opportunity where a gallery such as the High to hold out and say “What do you think of this?”

There are two conclusions to this presentation sans argument:

  1. It goes to show the bias against art with fantastic themes. Even though the history of art is primarily a history of the fantastic, mainline museums and galleries still feel the want to stay away from it, thinking serious art needs serious topis. (An idea not all that old, relatively speaking, and mostly horseshit, content-wise.)
  2. But there is a corrective necessary to the contemporary fantasy work: I am sure that much of it, however marvelous the view, is nonetheless basic, fundamental technique applied to a decent measure of imagination. I am sure that, if I were to really gather together the images online I would begin to see the repetitions, begin to see who is trite (technically or imaginatively) and who is truly creative. (After all, mimetic is the least sophisticated of arts: even if your mimetic source is fantastic in nature.) And in conversation with the artists, both those who fall to the lesser and those who rise to the greater sophistication, my comment to them would be the same: yes, you can accomplish these (lesser or greater) illustrations, but looking at the gamut of them all, I have to ask you, what now can you do, what now can you create, that will rises not just about the lesser, but above the gamut itself.

That is, yes, you have made something fascinating, intriguing, even wondrous. Now, make something astounding, make something of such intense beauty as to stun and awe passers by.

And there you see the failure of the High. There should be two purposes to any front line Museum (that is, pushing aside any art-historical purpose): To expose the public to new artists who merit the exposure, and the give artists reason to make something astounding, to be a place that will say – If you make something astounding, we will show it.

It is not a place to show, merely because of a name.

Especially because of a name. Such are the greatest failures of museums. Such is the greatest failure of artists. Such is the greatest failure of culture.

I wish to add, as a final poke, that Alex Katz's comments on the audio accompaniment for the High's last exhibit, reviewed below, revealed mostly how unsophisticated his understand of the aesthetic really is. It was astonishingly unimpressive for someone who can command that much wall space at a supposedly major museum.