Art Writing

James Franco, Bird S**t, and the Grotesque

The grotesque is one of the most obvious forms art may take to pierce the veil of familiarity, to stab us up from the dross of the accustomed, to make us aware of the perilous paradoxically of life. Robert Penn Warren
So then, how do we approach a performance piece by celebrity artist James Franco called Bird Shit? What kind of malediction is left for a crude, fluffy-minded effort flying under cover of a protected academic category: The Grotesque? Bird Shit lands at the Museum of Modern Art’s satellite PS1 today, April 7th. Continue Reading
The Hazard of Beauty

Talk of beauty is in the air these days. It has been absent as a reigning value in contemporary art long enough to be provoking interest once again. It is a bit of a jumble though. Everyone wants in on the beauty of the philosophers while reserving for themselves the ascendency of their own taste and perceptions. The knot knocks even the best of us off course with little guide beyond the packaged insights of art appreciation. No less formidable a cultural critic than Roger Scruton is unsafe from the tools of the appreciator’s trade. Continue Reading
Ruskin and Ourselves

I know many persons who have the purest taste in literature, and yet false taste in art, and it is a phenomenon that puzzles me not a little; but I have never known any one with false taste in books and true taste in pictures. ~ John Ruskin
John Ruskin was skeptical of the Victorian era’s flourishing publishing market. Dismayed over the “days of book deluge” in which he lived, he cautioned his audience to “keep out of the salt swamps of literature and live on a rocky little island of your own.” Continue Reading
Picturing Mary Magdalene

ART HISTORIANS ARE NOT NECESSARILY the best commentators on art. They are primarily researchers: archival sleuths, inquirers, unearthers of fact. Gumshoes, the best of them.  Some can write, many cannot. The discipline draws bookish sorts who are more at home in a library carrel, reading up on the words of some other member of the discipline who needs to be corrected. Or quieted. Or slain. In many respects, the discipline can be thought of as the yeshivot of the art world, a seminary for orthodox secularists trying to puzzle out the path to a better heaven. Continue Reading
Things to Read with Caravaggio in Mind

HASAN NIYAZI, impressario of Three Pipe Problem, had included a list of readings that informed his essay in the previous post, Navigating the Cognitive Philosophy of Michael Fried. I omitted the roster simply to conform more closely to the format of Studio Matters. The audience for this blog are, in the main, other working artists, a critic or two (one of whom comments anonymously), and art history buffs in the finest sense of the word amateur. Professional art historians, a rarified priesthood, tend to prefer talking to each other. Continue Reading