Don’t Know

Looking back over this recent group of posts around the concept of backstory, I sense a certain inadequacy; the range of topics is too broad, and so the concept becomes less compelling because less concrete. Yet all of the avenues opened up are worth a walk. One that really deserves treatment is the anxiety of reception that one can feel in much of the more intelligent art today. I don’t believe it comes from a fear of negative criticism; it’s a consequence of the fact that there are no longer any criteria of judgment. Scott Lyall and I were talking about this the other night—that no one knows what is best, really. One may have convictions, but at best they constitute one valid position among many, and no matter how convinced one may be, judgments of the relative merit of works even within a tightly defined area of practice remain equivocal. There’s always another way to do anything, and always another position to take. To be valid, judgments of value have to be objective, yet today there are so many objectivities that they undermine each other. If standards were clear, then success would be an achievement, but even those who think that success is entirely a social manipulation don’t have any better idea what to do next. This arbitrariness is at the core of abstract formalism, and in fact it was first recognized in that mode. For modernism, this is where the adventure begins, and it’s too bad that today most art that makes a claim to the modernist legacy can’t face the fact.

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