logo

Jed Perl on Second Thought

Jed Perl

Jed Perl

believe now that that I underestimated him.  Though I would not withdraw the particular critique I mounted in The Move Beyond Form, he clarified some issues relating to contemporary art in a very helpful way.   Both of those issues have to do with the quality of contemporary art, a topic that I did not take up in my book, which is more about a trend in the arts, not a critique of the quality of the individual examples.  However I have been troubled by the recent move toward crowd –pleasing spectacle in museum shows that seem more about marketing and advertising than about actual art, a phenomenon that IS treated indirectly in Chapter Seven.  Moreover I find a few very popular contemporary artists almost entirely valueless.  Perl gave me a way of thinking about these facts.

First, he made a distinction between ‘popular art’ (not necessarily a value judgment) that represents an experience shared by a great many people, and ‘high art’ that encourages quiet individual contemplation.  He worries that the opportunity for contemplation is being crowded out by the preference for shared spectacle, which seems to me an extremely valid worry.   (I would argue, however, that some spectacularly large contemporary art can promote both sharing and contemplation).  Second, while condemning what he calls “laissez-faire aesthetics,” he argued that art is not simply characterized by radical freedom, such that it can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean; it is also characterized by authority, by which he seems to mean a deference to structure.   I like this idea and hope to explore it further by reading his book, Magicians and Charlatans, even if it may be an idea that seems at odds with the move beyond form.   To be continued!