Post by onemandown72 on Nov 9, 2013 12:03:02 GMT -8
Ad disruptions aside I am at a loss as to understand the attraction in KAWS. Whenever I see his work it strikes me as having the same vacuousness that I feel whenever I look at anything (excluding his big flower dogs) that Jeff Koons produces. How has he reached the level that he has? Giant wooden versions of his characters? overblown cartoons @ $2,400 each? There seem a few KAWS fans on here. What gives?
Given that I’m on spring break and my second child isn’t here quite yet, I figure I’ll wade in to this debate a bit and give my 2 cents.
I’ll start by saying this is going to be long-winded and probably pretty dull, so if you aren’t up for it, back out now. But, if you are up for it I hope to accomplish the following:
1. Lay out a concept of mine about art appreciation that governs my reactions and, I believe, the reactions others have toward various artists. This concept directly addresses things like mr Revs statement ‘If it wasn’t for the name this kinda work would be ripped apart.”
2. Discuss my take on KAWS and the belief that his current work represents the pinnacle of his career. Further, this will address DunDun’s framing of KAWS work in terms of Pop Art and the concept of ‘tounge-in-cheek’.
3. Compare and contrast KAWS and MBW in terms of my above-mentioned concept of art appreciation, the above-mentioned review of KAWS’ body of work, and the difference between painting and Painting as set forth by acclaimed curator Franceso Bonami.
With regard to art and artists appreciation, I have found that my own personal approach neatly splits in to three categories – faith, suspension of disbelief, and rejection. I’ll start with rejection, as it is probably the easiest to grasp. Rejection of an artwork or artist is the result of indifference of (non)reaction coupled with depth-refusal. For example, Andy Warhol once famously stated, “"If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." If you, as an art observer, take this statement at face value, than you are engaging in a rejective artistic interpretation. You are choosing to deny the existence of depth, of artistic thought and/or insight, and are instead judging a work solely by its surface characteristics, its appearance if you will. You choose to void context and refuse its contemplation. As will be discussed later, you choose to view it as some painting and not a Painting.
This is not a bad or lesser approach in any way, shape or form. I return to a favorite quote again, as I do not believe it has been bettered,
“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” – Marcel Duchamp
Art is ‘finished’ by the observer, leaving the validity of the artwork in their minds, with their knowledge, their biases, and their personal context adding to an alchemical reaction that either will, or will not, turn base materials in to Art(or, again, some painting in to Painting). Again, this will be explored further in a little bit.
The second category to be addressed is likely the most difficult – suspension of disbelief. A simple dictionary definition of this term would be:
Suspension of Disbelief(phr) a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment
And I do rather enjoy Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s pretty term for it, “poetic faith,” though I do recognize that any adjective applied to faith debases its meaning. Engaging in art with suspension of disbelief allows one to enjoy that which, on closer review, would likely not pass muster due to various failings of either artwork, artist, or, in a sense, the observer himself. It eases the critical eye, stands down the cognitive guards, and allows the psycho-emotional to be stimulated on a lower, baser plane than would be reached when faith is present. For example, I personally view the work of Shepard Fairey via the avenue of suspension of disbelief. I enjoy his work like I enjoy Coca Cola. It makes me feel good but provides me little in the way of sustenance and does not provide anything toward my Maslow need for self-actualization. And you know what? That’s completely fine. I am not looking for anything deeper in Fairey’s work, not spelunking the infamous vagbutt if you will, because my context tells me there’s nothing there(for me). Going further would just spoil the enjoyment I allow myself to experience with Fairey’s work, so I choose not to, enjoying the lead and not frustrated because there just is no turning it to gold.
The third, and final, category is by far the hardest to convey in words as it is so personal, so unique to each individual, that it can really only be painted out in very broad strokes. That is the hard-to-grasp nature of faith. Though clichéd, I think it is again important to start with the dictionary definition:
Faith noun \ˈfāth\ 1 a: allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b (1): fidelity to one's promises (2): sincerity of intentions 2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust 3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially: a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>
For this discussion, of the many interrelated definitions of faith, I believe, “firm belief in something for which there is no proof,” offers the best starting point. Faith in an artist is the unencumbered embracement of him in much the same way the so-called ‘faithful’ grasp modern god figures. It is the power of belief in something greater than yourself, a belief that can, at its summit, reverberate spiritually but even at its base is always palpable. A belief in the existence of a plan, of a logic and reasoning, for which the lack of proof is not a refutation but rather an invitation; an invitation to explore, to interpret, to learn, to grow, to be, “What a man can be.”
It is these varied categories of art/artist appreciation that provide an excellent background for discussion of Rev’s statement, “‘If it wasn’t for the name this kinda work would be ripped apart.” This statement is much more complex than it appears on its face, as Rev’s use of ‘kinda work’ as opposed to just ‘work’ adds several important nuances. Foremost, through the use of kinda’ it acknowledges that artwork and artist are inextricably intertwine. More forcefully, it is my contention that the name and the artwork can not be artificially separated in any way, shape or form because they, together and inseparable, form the input for the observer’s Duchampian completion. The artist and the artwork, inseparable, alchemically react with the observer’s internal context(which is already in a state where it is either primed with prior artist knowledge or is a tabula rasa), determining which path of appreciation will be followed. But, how would we anticipate the results of reactions where the separation between artwork and artist is not artificial but rather a function of the observer’s lacking that profound piece of background information? I do believe that faith would be off the table do to the extreme emotional investment required to experience that path, as I do no believe an information-poor internal context would be conducive to engendering such capital. Therefore, it is my belief that we would see an observer population vacillate between rejection and suspension of disbelief, with Rev’s statement about work, ‘ripped apart,’ supporting a trend toward rejection.
Having wrapped the first 1/3 of this discussion, it is time to move on to my own personal interpretation of KAWS work. I will begin by saying that I have faith in KAWS as an artist, though it is more at the base level than summit. I think it will be interesting to share the following post I made on the Banksy forum in late-2008. It is a review of KAWS breakthrough fine art show at Gering & Lopez(see: www.nitrolicious.com/blog/2008/1 ... reception/ ).
“Initially, I thought that the colorway heads were a self-indulgent mess. Later, I began to appreciate them as a skewering of the rabid collector mindset(especially toy/print collectors). They are a multi-colored tribute to the irrational desire to collect 'em all in order to make oneself special and to be closer to the artist(in this case, to almost literally get inside his head). I find them to be a recognition by KAWS of the obsessiveness, the pathology, that has allowed him to become 'big in Japan'.
Overall, I think the other recent works - the Smurfs and Spongebobs - are by far his best stuff to date. He is using familiar, 'innocent' icons to convey the current emotional states of the adult world. This is a time of confusion, fear, anxiety, irrational behavior, etc. all poignantly displayed via the expressional faces, and KAWS' trademark crossed eyes, of childhood legends.
I think the most significant feature, the really subversive element of KAWS newest work, is that the children's icons, now manipulated, refuse to provide the escape-from-reality, the desired regression to more carefree times, the wanting rest from the burden of carrying the weight of the world, that often fuels adult consumption of children's cartoons. As the world spirals toward madness, KAWS is giving us no quarter."
ou can literally read my personal transition from suspension of disbelief to faith above.
Now, I’d like to quote DunDun’s well-written interpretation of KAWS body of work:
DunDun wrote: Nice viewpoint there Pat. What I see in KAWS, besides his technical skill is that he's the ANTI-WARHOL. He actually handpaints everything and I view his work as a direct response to the Pop-art movement. Even though he often uses the same imagery as Pop artists incorporate, it's more of rejection of them than it's an acceptance/influence. His work questions what makes an Icon iconic and "dissects" these memes. I think he's saying that in this day and age of ubiquitous advertising that these "icons" should NOT be made into art and championed as great work. It's very tongue in cheek. The X's are simple, and I see his work as being more influenced by minimalists and modernists than anything else. These movements were created as a rejection of the traditional art movements that dominated art for centuries and I see his work as the same with the "Pop" art that's still prevalent today. To pass of his work as simple X's on a face is missing the point COMPLETELY IMO.
This is what I like about art. It means something completely different to everyone. Maybe I'm looking into his work too deeply, but that's the beauty of art.
Personally, I like DunDun’s framing of KAWS work in terms of Pop Art but do reject his assertion that the current work is ‘tongue in cheek’. I find the current work, if anything, disconcerting and almost aggressive in its subversiveness. Expanding on my show review quoted above, KAWS best work teases with our collective, desired carefree regression by presenting iconic cartoon characters. In a world in the midst of a general debasement of human worth, who doesn’t want to curl up and mentally reconnect with our innocent, ignorant youthful selves? But, after bring us to the edge of mental escape KAWS cruelly throws us to the precipice of despair with those dead eyes and empty expressions. In doing so, I find KAWS has much in common with Mark Rothko, who famously stated, “"I'm not an abstractionist. I'm not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on."” Sounds about right.
And I say KAWS best work does this as it is his most subtle work that I find to be the best. The lesser the distortion, the subtler the infiltration, the greater horror I see. Now, I do find much of the more blatantly emotional works, such the harried/stressed Spongebobs dripping with tension, to be excellent as well. However, they are, in a way, too easy. I look at them and I can readily see them as the mirror they are; reflecting my ever diminishing self back. Dead eyes meet deadening eyes. But that isn’t doom, and doom is where KAWS is at his best.
Now that I’ve less-than-satisfactorily addressed the second topic on my list, it’s time to address the KAWS vs. MBW debate, which I will frame in terms of Francesco Bonami’s differentiation of ‘painting’ and ‘Painting’ and my own three-pathed view of art appreciation.
I will quote Bonami’s essay included in the catalogue for Rudolf Stingel excellent 2007 retrospective:
“What makes a painting a ‘Painting’? This question has yet to be answered by art historians, critics, or artists….
To paint is to act. Yet this action does not necessarily produce a painting…What makes a Painting is the capacity of the artist to create either a performance that will be possible to look at forever or to create a void that will blend with the passing of time. This ability to grasp and harness time holds the keys to creating a Painting.
Although I have stated that painting can be an action, it must also be an observation. The mere act of painting does not create a Painting but simply some painting. But if the action of painting is used as a lens to observe reality to create another reality, then we have a Painting. Why? Because observation creates distance, as well as the accompanying threshold that the viewers needs and wants in order to cross over to accept the difference between reality and art. This observation, combined with an understanding of time, moves a painting from a simple painting to a Painting.”
I believe Bonami’s statements and my own differentiation between modes of artistic appreciation dovetail nicely. Both highlight thresholds that must be crossed over by the viewer in order for acceptance to occur. In such, both accept the Duchampian completion principal and primacy of the observer, and their internal context, in the art appreciation process.
Extending that, the difference between KAWS and MBW’s work can simply be broken down to a comparison of how many of each observers’ thresholds they have crossed. As stated above, for me KAWS has successfully crossed the threshold between rejection and suspension of disbelief and the threshold between suspension of disbelief and faith. As a result, he and his work are believed in, explored, interpreted, and assist in my own personal quest toward self-actualization. MBW, on the other hand, has not crossed any thresholds and is therefore viewed with a rejective artistic interpretation. As a result, contemplation of MBW’s work is minimal, contextual information is minimized, and it ends up being only so much painting.
What artists do you like? Do you not like Jeff Koons?
The work speaks for itself. His work and merch is made well and doesn't need any BS pretentious statement to explain it.
Also what is $2,400?
Mose - thanks for your explanation, well thought out and interesting read. However hasn't changed my opinion of Kaws.
As for the work speaking for itself - this can back my initial assertion up as much as yours so isn't either useful or insightful.
Artists I like, varied and long to give a flavour street influenced artists I'm a big fan of Parla, JR, Banksy, Os Gem, Haring. More established artists Braque, Mondrian, Rothko, Magritte, Turner, Warhol, Tyombly to name a handful.
I don't think the explanation was meant to change your opinion of KAWS, but rather better your understanding of other peoples opinions of KAWS.
I believe many KAWS fans arrived as such through excellent marketing. In a sense, KAWS is as much of a PR guru as Max Clifford or BANKSY. Supply/Demand pressures alone could account for a large amount of his fan base; they've seen his art for many years in many places they respect, yet find it impossible to purchase a piece on release/directly from the artist/even on the secondary market. And there's all the plastic vinyl and toys and commercialization of his story. I equate these to a souvenir from Disney Land, yet there is no real KAWS land, and not only are the toys sold out but you couldn't really afford them in the first place. Somehow he is always perfectly out of reach. A larger than life figure who literally represents himself with larger than life figures. At the same time, I feel like it's a cheap trick, and have grown tired of his charade. I absolutely love some of his newer paintings, yet despise others. He's so good at combining art, style, pop culture and commerce, that he himself has become a hype machine. The man is precise, fluid, imaginative, redundant, unique, bold, talented, shallow and diligent. He makes his little operation appear to be the biggest thing in the world, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had more fun making money than art. If anything, people like him because he is successful. From rags tags to riches.
"Not no Parkay, not no Margarine, strictly butter."
Happy to see this question coming out, I thought I was alone on my negative appreciation. So I do appreciate all explanations given, however, it hasn't either changed my opinion.
itsnitty- Spot on..That makes total sense, seems like a formula for nowadays success. Although, I must say, as precise, fluid etc..he might be, I hesitate he's any imaginative,talented, or unique? Most of his work (if not all) is a rip off/manipulation of someone else's success. That's a cheap lazy trick!
Have you guys seen how Pharrell Williams is trying to launch that whoever Mina Kwon career? that's proper bullshit and makes me laugh, but I can see how she could easily become a success artist just by following that crappy formula.