Re: Arguments (was chicago film archive)

From: Chuck Kleinhans (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Jan 06 2007 - 12:42:03 PST

On Jan 4, 2007, at 7:08 PM, Tony Conrad wrote:

> Hi Chuck---------
> No problem! But both Bernie and Anthony are good friends of mine,
> and I
> was put off by the ad hominem pickiness that is evident even in your
> defensive rejoinder below.


I don't see anything "ad hominem" in what I said. Ad hominem means
attacking the personal character of someone, right? I said nothing
about Anthony McCall which is personal. It was all factual and

> I expressed my interest in keeping the discussion on a
> higher plane than flaming someone for how they earn a living

I certainly did not flame McCall for how he makes his living; I
simply reported that he has run a commercial design business since
1979. I don't think there's any judgement of any kind to be made
from that fact. Apparently you must think that there is something
wrong with that.

There's a widely observable prejudice in the artworld, and especially
in art schools, which presumes that one's validity as an artist is
directly related to one's inability to make a living in one's
specialty upon graduation. Thus, in most art schools the painters
and sculptors are ranked at the top and the people who do or teach or
study interior design, fashion, graphic arts, etc. are at the bottom
of the scale of prestige. Yet it's the latter group who are most
likely to be able to find reasonable employment using their craft on

To my way of thinking, McCall has remained an artist while working in
the area of design. A look at his firm's website shows examples that
are elegant, communicative, and effective. If I had to hire a
designer for a gallery or museum project, I'd first go to Narrative
Rooms. I see nothing wrong per se with being a petite bourgeois
business man, or making art on a "for hire" basis. Perhaps you do,
but then it's your prejudice, not mine which is operating here.

>> I think
>> it's cool that Anthony's work (which he sidestepped for so long in
>> his
>> need to "make a living")(what do you do for a living? did you get a
>> teaching position before they dried up?) is finally returning his
>> investment.

You seem to be the accusatory one here. As I indicated above, I have
no problem with someone making a living using their artist skills,
and in my apparently much more expansive view of art than yours, I
define Art as including crafts, applied arts, and so forth. (For a
shorthand, I don't accept the Kantian distinction of art and craft.)

And yes, I teach for a living. And it took me 5 years of various
jobs before I ended up with a tenure track position back in the day.
Your tone hints at suspicion of teaching...why?

> But I should hew to my own cry, here, and suggest why I feel that your
> analysis of (the present reception of) McCall's work is inaccurate. It
> is far too simple to assess "Line" as "formalist".

Hey, that's exactly what I was saying--I am critical of the currently
dominant critical reading of McCall's work precisely because it
validates it only in FORMAL terms.

> What is more cogent
> today is that "Line" is a social intervention; that it takes place in
> and among the viewership, and anounces the "apparatus" not so much
> as a
> formal system as a totemic mystery, with an ability to cast a thrall
> over the viewership. Its partition of the thickened space invites
> momentary difference to appear among the viewers. That is, "Line" (in
> the sense of Bourriaud's relational aesthetics) articulates a
> micro-utopian schema, using singularly economical means.

Well, that's a pretty high falutin' way of discussing Line, but I
think we actually agree on what is most interesting about it.

> By comparison, the (admittedly interesting) oppositional politics
> of the
> other films is today generally well-rehearsed. I do think that
> there are
> ways in which the other films could also be productively revisited
> from
> a (perhaps) anachronistic perspective, but I am not sure that would
> lead
> to increasingly trenchant social understandings. Perhaps Branden
> Joseph
> has undertaken this project; I have not read his book about McCall.

I referred to the Christopher Eamon's book. Branden Joseph's essay
on McCall forms the bulk of that book. (There's also an excellent
interview with McCall by Jonathan Walley, reprinted from its earlier
appearance in The Velvet Light Trap, fall 04.) Joseph's essay is a
dutiful plodding through 4 years of light-based work in McCall’s
early career. It is the most boring piece of art writing I have
encountered in decades. The approach is purely formalist with a
smattering of references to Merleu-Ponty's phenomenology for a little
philosophical/theoretical posturing.

As for Bernie, my comments were directed not at his person but at the
flat out absurdity of his claim that he could divine the reasons why
a couple left a screening, and accurately determine their class
position by looking at them. I was also criticizing his dismissal of
them simply because he presumed they were "middle aged" and "middle
class". After all, t0ny Conrad and Anthony McCall are certainly
middle aged, and (it seems likely, but I'd need more information)
middle class. Nothing to be ashamed of there.

The CAE Defense site was down when I tried to see it. A few days
later the site was up and the check is in the mail.


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