Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Jonathan Mayhew

I guess the left and the right share a contempt for the autonomy of art. I take your point that the human element in art is implicit in the fact that it is made by and for humans, and that it would therefore be nonsense to talk about art as though this were not the case. But that you don't need, therefore, to distinguish between human and inhuman forms of art. That's equally nonsensical.

Dan Green

What would be an example of an inhuman form of art?

Jonathan Mayhew

I guess a non-human intelligent life form on another planet might have its own distinctive forms of art.


I think Jonathan Mayhew is saying there is no such thing, i.e. he's actually agreeing with you.

The point you make in the post is one you make pretty much every day. It's almost funny, the idea of you wearily surveying the internet each morning: 'who's made art serve some shoddy Other Purpose today...[sigh]'. Don't get me wrong-it's absolutely necessary, as evinced by the fact that the daily examples are so easy to come by (that's why it's only 'almost' funny).

Could one reason for this be that the notion of autonomous art threatens religion? The following, from your post, could be said to link art with the divine:

'What, finally, can be more "human" than to exercise the imagination in such a thoroughgoing and transformative way as to create a poem, painting, or musical composition that seems so self-sufficient that we want call it "autonomous"?'

Just an idea-probably old and certainly undeveloped, but I'll just put it out there. Judging from the 'Spare Us' post I do this at my own risk-I've started to imagine what would happen if everyone who contributed to that thread found themselves in a bar together, it would be refreshing to see a 'rumble' erupt due to a solitary figure (and I like to cast myself in this role) announcing: 'gentlemen, commercial publishing sucks ass, end of story'...

Dan Green

I apologize if I misconstrued Jonathan's comment. I think he knows (I hope he knows) how much I respect the intelligence of his own blog.

I think the notion of autonomous art does threaten religion--Kimball clearly thinks it does--if you think every other human activity must be subservient to it. My notion of "autonomous" art, however, is thoroughly material. Not as a depository of "spirit," but as a created aesthetic object.


But I'm talking more about the work-the devotion if you like-that goes into it ('to exercise the imagination in such a thoroughgoing and transformative way'). However, I don't think art rules out god, and there is something tiresome about 'art as religion' (I suspect it's a cliché).

Perhaps I am only adding to what you already say, namely that the creation of this aesthetic object is an activity that usurps religious attention to some degree. Obviously I don't just mean the time spent on it, but the similarities of dedication and necessary faith.


Nearly all of modern architecture is inhuman. That you can't think of any examples of inhuman art suggests to me you don't know what the word 'inhuman' means. It does not mean 'non-human', it means "Lacking kindness, pity, or compassion; cruel. Deficient in emotional warmth; cold. Not suited for human needs. Not of ordinary human form; monstrous." So inhuman is a highly accurate description of almost all of the newer buildings in my city's downtown.

Dan Green

I find much of modern architecture very "human" indeed. It represents the human ability to, literally in this case, think outside the box. Does this make me "cruel," "lacking kindness," "deficient in emotional warmth," and "monstrous"? If you think the problem with autonomous art is that it's "cold," then say so and explain what you mean. "Inhuman" is not an adequate substitute.


i don't know about you. I'm referring to the buildings themselves, which are the very definition of inhuman (a word you still seem to think means "not human"). The typical office tower is inhuman: monstrously tall, made of concrete, glass, and steel (materials which to most people, when used on such a scale, seem 'cold' or lacking in emotional warmth, and by blocking out the sun actually making its environs colder), not suited for human needs (windows that do not open, glare reflected from its glass is unpleasant for pedestrians, often no concern for fitting in with surrounding buidings).

Dan Green

If you're talking about the "typical office tower," (I thought you were talking about "modern architecture" as in "modernist" architecture), I would agree that many of them are ugly. But I still wouldn't think to call them "inhuman."


Having observed with curiosity the recent scuffles on T.R.E., I note that Mr. Green and Mr. Kimball appear to have at least one sentiment in common:

"The writer William Dean Howells once said that the problem for a critic is not making enemies but keeping them." --Roger Kimball

LD Rafey

I wonder. Is it not valid to say that art, not unlike mathematics, is also an innate vehicle for problem solving? Think of it! Virtually every work of art, even 'bad' art, is the product of innumerable decisions; decisions made by the artist (or group of artists) for the purpose of solving any number of problems encountered in represtational and symbolic, abstract and non-linear type of process as the artist(s) gradually forms an 'attitude' toward an observation or set of observations, informed, perhaps by individual memories and by current collective knowledge. Additionally, most forms of art have the added potential to represent an otherwise intangible idea. Ideas and concepts concerning religion, magic, superstition, science, beauty, naturalism, etc. are all subserviant to translation via the artistic process.
Anyway, just a thought. Now to pick up my brush and go back to my thoughtless work.

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