Piling It On, Or, Why Do I Read This Stuff…

You don’t often see me write about Contemporary Art on this site, and there are various reasons for that. Among these is the fact that I prefer to read and think and write about art and design created by people who have been dead for awhile. History and a bit of distance usually, although not always (see, e.g., Basquiat) allow us the chance to examine the work of these individuals in a more balanced, dispassionate way.

That being said, in order to keep up with what’s going on in the art world, I read about all kinds of Contemporary Art in the dozen or so art news sites I visit daily. As it’s hard enough for me to slog through the written gobbledygook that usually makes up this sort of news, I don’t feel the need to impose that same level of suffering on my subscribers by writing in an opaque fashion. Nevertheless, I think it’s good to show you, at least occasionally, why it’s important to me to curate what I write to you about, in the hope that you’ll have something edifying to take away with you when you read one of my posts.

Jeff Koons, the American artist known for designing things like the infamous porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson with Bubbles the Chimp, or giant puppies made out of topiary – he doesn’t make them himself, he has minions for that – has a major work coming to market shortly at Christie’s. Described by Art Market Monitor as “one of Jeff Koons [sic] complex and exacting Play-Doh works”, the fourteen-by-fourteen foot “Play-Doh” is expected to fetch at least $20 million at auction next month in New York. Made from painted aluminum, one of his preferred materials for monumental sculpture, the piece “took 20 years to realize in the manner Koons found acceptable.” Personally, I would have found the piece more interesting, albeit not $20 million interesting, if it were made from actual Play-Doh, but there you are.

Koons

Koons has always been something of a whipping boy for conservatives who don’t actually understand very much about art. That being said, even he has come under fire recently from the intelligentsia, thanks to his offer to “donate” a memorial to victims of the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris: but only if Paris pays him roughly $4 million to create it. The sculpture, “Bouquet of Tulips”, is of a giant human hand referencing the Statue of Liberty, holding a bunch of tulips. It would stand nearly 40 feet tall, and be placed outside of the city’s Museum of Modern Art.

Back in January, a group of French intellectuals signed a letter in which they quite reasonably asked why it was that such an important monumental commission, on such a prominent site in Paris, was simply to be given to Mr. Koons, rather than be opened to competition to include French artists [“…si une œuvre d’une importance inédite devait être placée dans ce lieu culturellement et historiquement particulièrement prestigieux, ne faudrait-il pas procéder par appel à projets, comme c’est l’usage, en ouvrant cette opportunité aux acteurs de la scène française ?”] To date, Koons has not responded to this criticism. Meanwhile, since the art world is rather a closed universe, if one group of intellectuals starts attacking a particular artist, then the rest of the art world commentariat will eventually fall into line and do the same.
Tulips

Yet even when criticizing what is ultimately little more than showmanship on a grand scale, and of the sort that says little to nothing about the victims of violence, the art world can’t help but pen excremental missives that attempt to provide deeper meaning to what is ultimately little more than an occasion of flatulence. “Even as Koons reiterated images of kitsch culture,” wrote one critic in Apollo, jumping on the “Non” bandwagon several weeks after the publication of the aforementioned letter, “his vibrantly sensual surfaces seemed to collide the erotic with the deathly, and space-age technology with the infantile, anatomising the fetishism at the heart of the aesthetic lure of the commodity, even as they enacted it.”

Quite.

So the next time you see something I’ve written about art, architecture, etc., gentle reader, keep in mind that the reason you’re seeing it at all is because I sloughed through tons of the forgoing sort of material, in order to bring you news which, hopefully, you will find worthwhile.

Advertisements

​Waiting To Change: An Update

I hope you had a blessed and happy Easter. Mine was so unbelievably full of activity, that by the time I got to evening on Easter Sunday, I was so exhausted that I’d made myself ill. I can well understand why in many countries, Easter Monday is a public holiday.

You’ll recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote about wanting to make some significant changes here, and I’m very grateful to those who responded with their thoughts and suggestions. As it turns out, things have been moving in an entirely unanticipated direction over the last few weeks, thanks to some opportunities coming my way from very encouraging people. While I can’t make any announcements until everything is finalized, I can say that I won’t be going away, I’ll just be moving to a new home – er…homes.

Most of you who honor me by subscribing to this blog tend to fall into two categories: those mainly interested in Catholic culture, and those mainly interested in secular culture. Some of you came to know me many years ago, as a result of many kind people in the Catholic media community taking an interest in my work and allowing me to share my thoughts with their audiences. Others of you may only know me from more recent years, when once again a number of good-hearted people in the world of secular media have helped me to become better known to their readers. I’m indescribably grateful to find myself in this position, with a great diversity of subscribers, followers, and engagers.

However, over the past two years it’s become very difficult for me to express my interests in both the sacred and the profane through a single, self-sustained media outlet. Everything on this site comes down to me: content, editing, layout, publication, distribution, marketing, feedback, etc. All of this is time consuming, and I don’t do media for a living. I don’t have minions, and no one pays me to write this blog; any advertisements that you see here are making money for WordPress, not yours truly. At the same time, I’ve gotten so used to being a one-man band, that I’ve been reluctant to consider yielding control over my work to someone else.

But listening to Mac Barron last evening talk about a new job he’s taking, and how he’s happier and more productive when he’s given structure, really hit home for me. His observation reminded me of a conversation I had near the beginning of this process, with someone whose experience in and opinions on media I very much respect. He pointed out that I, too, seem to do better when I’m given structure, instead of trying to create everything myself. And that’s absolutely right: I’m a lists and research guy, not a seat-of-the-pants guy.

So, for those of you mainly interested in my commentary on Catholic matters, you’ll be able to read and engage on a far more regular basis than you have lately, and in a forum which you are probably already visit regularly. For those here primarily for the arty-farty stuff, you’ll have a brand-new product from a familiar brand which will give you what you’re already coming here for and even a bit more, which will hopefully serve as a practical resource. For those of you who stop by for both, well, pretty soon you’ll have double the pleasure, or displeasure, depending on your view of my scribblings.

Of course, this isn’t last call just yet. I’ll give plenty of actual notice before this old blog gets put out to pasture. But if you can, please keep these upcoming changes in your thoughts and prayers, and thanks for your continued support.

Help Me Move! (No Heavy Lifting Required) 

After nearly nine years, I’ll be retiring the Blog of the Courtier in the near future. Now don’t panic, because I’ll still be writing. But it’s time for a change – and I need your help.

I began blogging back in the mists of time, when I taught myself HTML during law school and started my first web site. Later I launched this blog on Blogger, and then switched to WordPress several years later. Over the years I’ve built up a loyal group of readers, who appreciate my (often overwrought) musings on this, that, and quite a bit of the other, and from whom I’ve learned a great deal.

Yet I’m very much aware that I’ve plateaued.

If you’ve ever lifted weights or played a musical instrument, then you know that at some point, you reach a level where everything stays the same. You don’t have to try so hard, and things come pretty easily. That leaves you with a choice: stay where you are and coast along, or try to do something different. That’s the place where I find myself, since there a number of things about this site that just aren’t improving anymore.

For example, the title of this site neatly sums up the sort of things I write, since it’s a play on Castiglione’s “Book of the Courtier”, a work that I’ve always found inspirational. On the other hand, it’s pretty clunky. Without naming names, I know several writers and podcasters who reference this site in their work, but struggle with how to pronounce it, or even remember what it’s actually called.

We have to keep up with the times, if we’re to stay relevant. That doesn’t mean lowering our standards, but it does mean taking a long, hard look in the mirror from time to time, to see what needs to be updated. Your grandfather’s Harris tweed jacket will never go out of style, but his extra-wide ties certainly have.

I know that this is a risky move as a writer who is not more widely known. I also realize that I’m going to lose a lot of readers when I move. I could just stay here and do more of the same. But I feel the need to push myself a bit harder, and the least I can do, for those of you who want to stick around, is to make that as pleasant and attractive a prospect as possible.

What I’m hoping to get from you, gentle reader, is some feedback.

I’ve already got several ideas about where I want to take things in the future, but I’m still working those out. In the meantime, it would help me a great deal if you would let me know your thoughts. What do you like/dislike about reading my work? What are your opinions on issues such as format, length, subject matter, and so on?

Please use the “Contact” tab, located up in the header of the site, to send me your thoughts. I’d prefer that you use that form, rather than comment directly on this post, since it will be easier for me to review the responses. I‘ll be very grateful to receive them, and I promise to read and consider all of them.

For the time being, I’ll keep posting on this site as I always do. It’s not going to go dark without plenty of advance warning. And while we await the outcome of this move, please allow me to thank you for your many years of support; I hope you’ll continue to support my efforts, as I launch into the unknown.