Sunday, December 6, 2009

Famous Artists Who SUCK: the RiTS Manifesto*

"We know that 'Great Art' is so great because male authorities have told us so, and we can't claim otherwise, and only those with exquisite sensitivities far superior to ours can perceive and appreciate the greatness, the proof of their superior sensitivity being that they appreciate the slop that they appreciate."

"The veneration of 'Art' and 'Culture'-- besides leading many women into boring, passive activity that distracts from more important and rewarding activities, and cultivating active abilities, leads to the constant intrusion on our sensibilities of pompous dissertations on the deep beauty of this and that turd." -Valerie Solanis, The S.C.U.M Manifesto (particular quotes courtesy of Bitch magazine.)

When it comes to anything "established"-- be it art, music, fashion, literature, politics, history, movies, TV, or whatever-- there is also an established notion that there are certain works or people or components that are Important and Great; the greatness of which, we, the populace, are not to question.

One of the greatest, most freeing realizations I've had on my life (and a big part of why I consider myself a feminist- well, one of the big parts) is that much of what we are taught is important is STUPID--STUPID, and OVERRATED. In history class, we are made to memorize facts about wars and kings we forget immediately, at the complete expense of ever learning anything about real people and how they lived, in English we are made to find the great meaning behind "great works" at the expense of any critique or creative output of our own, in everyday life we are not to impugn upon the greatness of Led Zeppelin or the genius of Roman Polanski or the "classiness" of Audrey Hepburn/Natalie Portman at the Oscars. (Not that fashion would ever be elevated to the heights of, say, Ernest Hemingway, but certainly fashion has its own hierarchies and canons.)

What's crazy is that, even in our reality TV-addled times, saying these things aloud still blows people's minds. Throughout my high school years, I had a sneaking suspicion that a good many of the Great things we were taught really weren't so great, but actually articulating these ideas was difficult, not only because I didn't quite know what I meant, but because saying stuff like "Picasso was a hack," or "Kirkegaard is boring the shit out of me," or "Judy Blume is as important as Tolstoy," or "Aristotle is 99% irrelevant," gets people really mad. I think music was kind of the beginning for me, because I realized early on that I hated Simon and Garfunkel, the Doors, and numerous other bands that are, for some reason, considered inarguably Great.

This is obviously not to say everything Bad is Good, or that anything done by a marginalized/overlooked person is therefore Good- this train of thought can make you fall into the same trap of accepting things for other reasons besides the things themselves. But I do believe everyone should be allowed- encouraged, even- to examine whether we think things are great because of the what they are or because of what people have told us about them. And also that what we have chosen to represent us and our history as a culture is nothing if not exclusionary, written by the victors themselves, self-serving, and full of glaring omissions.

What is the point of all this??? Famous artists who SUCK! A new feature, even though I am always introducing "features" to this blog that I never continue. But this is basically what this blog is about anyway!

I have a book called "Great Prints and Printmakers" that has some amazing, trippy, highly detailed medieval prints, which I love. I'm surprised certain Renaissance and medieval artwork is not more popular- because it is weird, intense, psychedelic, and full of archaic symbolism, giving a window into the culture at the time. And monsters! It's full of monsters! Here are some Albrecht Durer engravings, but he is just the tip of the iceberg. Sorry the quality is so bad- they are worth enlarging!

See? That shit is so metal. And when you think about the detail and labor that went into work like this, it is mindblowing.

Anyway, the book moves on in time, to the other "masters", all those guys who were French and drew sloppy pictures of buxom naked ladies.

We have Gauguin's colonialist depictions of "native" ladies.

Matisse also just loved the boobs of exotic ladies (exotic ladies, of course, have always been a little easier to depict naked because it is their natural, lesser, uncivilized state. See: entire Western history of anthropology)

Seriously! Are we going to pretend this artwork "holds up?" If a guy was selling this on the street alongside charcoal portraits of Will Smith, would you look twice???

Alright, what about THIS boob-focused picture, by Chagall:
Look me in the eye and tell me this does not look like total, utter crap! It is hideous!

Here's a Renoir and a Degas:

While slightly more aesthetically pleasing, I think it's obvious these have not aged well either. They look like cheesy softcore. Supposedly Degas hated women (well, they all probably did) and I really hate the fact that his ballerinas are so revered as depictions of women and placed in the rooms of countless little girls. I guess they are revolutionary because they depict women doing something besides drying off their boobs, stretching, or dooming the world's perfection with their slutty, temptress ways.

Then there's Picasso, The Beatles of the art world- he was always right on time with the hot new trend so that it wasn't controversial by the time he got his ulta-famous hands on it. It's not like there weren't people doing a lot crazy cubist/surreal stuff before him, just like there were lots of people playing psychedelic music before George discovered Shankar or whatever happened. I think the most overlooked fact in Picasso's artwork is that, like the Chagall above, it is really, really ugly. It's dreary without commenting on it's own dreariness, and the focus, as with most of these people, is not the art and what it depicts (cause it's probably naked ladies or fruit) but the groundbreaking "technique"-very essentially "masculine", man.

To be fair, I guess he did pioneer the important "sad clown" genre.

*Alternate Title: The Great Master(bator)s


Alex said...

Albrecht Durer is the fucking shit. Woodcutting is fucking hard and the fact that he did woodcuts of shit like Saint Anthony being ripped apart by demons? Unimpeachably awesome.

Ashley said...

I found that exact same problem when I took Art History a couple years ago. The most famous pieces of art are the most boring pieces of shit ever--the Mona Lisa? Really? Give me a break.

I'm so glad you picked out Durer--he's, as you so succinctly put it, metal. I particularly like Goya's darker paintings for that reason as well. Topics outside of the female form are just that much more interesting.

Mary said...

Alex, I totally thought of you when looking at this book. Also, you should collaborate with me on my newest project I am never going to work on: a (really gory, duh) zombie movie set in the 14th or whatever century about the black plague. With witches!

Yeah, Goya is pretty metal too! I also love Bosch and a lot of Northern Renaissance painters. And the overall obsession with demons and the devil and monsters and an impending sens of doom and stuff. So much better than a mude reclining on a Persian carpet.

Mary said...

a nude, not a "mude"

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just found your blog today, and YOU ARE MY SENSE OF HUMOR. You seem so very wonderful.

Do you have a post about how every single designer award show gown is a boring, satin wad of lackluster? Because I think it's a topic that should be shouted about more often.

The history class thing is all too glaring. It really makes me wonder how 'American History' and 'American Government' are two different classes.

You should make that zombie movie. If you don't I will. I'm working on a dystopian, feminist graphic novel, mself. Witches as in witch trials? Because that would make a good horror movie, as well. 'Witchcraze' (by Anne Barstow?) would be a great source for that sort of thing.

Sorry for the rambling. It's just nice to find a young lady who likes to rant and hate things as much as I do.

I'm Emily, by the way. Nice to meet you.

Mary said...

Actually, yeah I have a lot of posts on that: and

there's also some crossover with this category:

see, it's all very organized! sort of.

but yeah, i would like to work in witch trials somehow, even though i would rather focus on the colonialist witch trials, which happened later.

thanks for reading my blog!

Nickey said...

Ok, I have to be honest... I love your blog, but I feel like maybe you are being a little too strong of a hater here. I agree that the charcoal booby drawing is pretty awful, but to me it seem as if you are just saying "everyone told you these old white dudes are unequivocally great, but I'm here to tell you there unequivocally awful." In my opinion, both of those statements are false, and encourage a culture where we don't question art. Isn't the feminist way to choose for yourself whether it's any good, and not to believe anyone's subjective opinion? Based on reading your post, I feel a bit embarrassed to admit that I rather like the Matisse. For the most part, I agree with you- we absolutely should question whether the great masters are actually good. But to move towards a world where we have our own autonomy to judge art, that is truly radical.

Mary said...

Hi Nickey,

I think this post is clear in stating that art should be judged objectively, and that everything considered good is not automatically bad and vice versa- (though context could not, and should not, be removed from anything.)

I certainly never said or ALL the "old masters" are universally terrible- Durer is an old master, which is why I chose to post him and not a more "feminist" artist.

Do I think I should make MORE of a point/big deal about critiquing work that is part of the canon? Yes- because people don't hear it enough, and because it does encourage people (including me) to question things that are seemingly universally accepted and try to figure out why. It's like, a museum would never be like, "Do YOU think this Picasso is any good?" because the greatness of this work is considered monolithic. But they should!

I genuinely think this particular art is ugly and overrated. Perhaps most pointedly, I don't think it should be treated any more reverently than, say, a t-shirt from Urban Outfitters. Obviously not everyone is going to have the same aesthetic, and some people certainly they could be seeing something of value that I'm overlooking.

If you like the Matisse, I would be interested to hear about it. I am not trying to say "If you like this art you are therefore stupid!" (so I hope it didn't come across that way) but simply "How come people never consider that this art is stupid?"

Gaby said...

Speak truth to power, Mary! And yeah, of course you can like Matisse or whatever, but the point is don't feel bad/ stupid for not liking Matisse--like, in my life, this has been "Should I feel bad/ stupid for not reading 'Moby Dick'?" Stuff like that!

Mary said...

Also, "the Matisse" (I hate referring to art by people's last name like that) IS the booby charcoal drawing.

♥Jozee said...

I was nodding all along.. until you got to the critique of Chagall. I LOVE CHAGALL! I think a lot is lost when viewing these pieces in a book as opposed to in person--particularly in the size of the print vs. the original and the emotive qualities of the colour. Chagall's colours are just so magnificent! Even in the piece you posted here that you critique.. colours are great! Anyway, of all the European art museums I've been to, the Chagall museum in Nice is definitely a stand out and made me appreciate him much, much more.

Anyway, I also happen to be a huge fan of Matisse (again, a master of colour), but wow, that charcoal drawing is truly heinous. That, I will freely admit.

Picasso & Gauguin & Renoir & Degas? Yeah, never was such a fan of any of those guys.

Marie-Christine said...

Don't be deluded about the feminism in Degas' representation of dancers.. You can still see in the Paris Opera the hallway by which the expensive-seat people could go right into the girl's dressing room so they could check out the goods closer up. Putting out for the sponsors was definitely part of the job description, alas.
Suzanne Valadon, now that was a great artist :-)..

Marie-Christine said...

Oh, just glanced at the other comments. Forget this stuff about "too strong of a hater". It's your blog, you don't have to bow to every Nice Girl toodling by :-).. They can keep admiring Chagall if it works for them, as far as I'm concerned.
I loathe him particularly, icky pastel colors and namby-pamby topics, and even more since I've been to see his museum in Nice and realized what a religious tight-ass he was..

Megan Thomas-Melly said...

Ugh. Gaugin. What a creep!

"Gaugin moved to the Marquesas after getting a commision from a Paris art dealer where he died after living a wild life with another 14 year old "wife" and taking copious amounts of morphine for his pain."

Dude had more than one underaged "wives" (a.k.a. underaged indigenous girls prized for their great mysterious "otherness"... I believe he had a child with one or both of them as well...) This makes me feel a little squeamish about considering his depictions of supine brown skinned babes "masterpieces" or whatever.

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