The Antidote to Pretentious Art? Just Look, Don’t Think | David Salle

The Antidote to Pretentious Art? Just Look, Don’t Think | David Salle

Not all art necessarily makes an appeal to
the visual senses, but let’s say that most of it does. So it might seem unnecessary or unnecessarily
elementary to say so, but sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves that art is something
meant to be seen primarily, that the appeal that art makes to our intellect and emotions,
our attention, is achieved through visual stimuli and that’s a different animal than
other things, than writing or music. The eyes are capable of incredibly subtle
perceptual distinctions that happen at an unconscious level. So the act of looking consciously is the really
partly a matter of paying attention to what it is we notice when we really look at something. Another way of putting it is to think about
drawing, if you’ve ever taken a drawing class or you’ve ever even read a book about how
drawing is taught, the first most elementary lesson is usually a demonstration of the difference
between what you see in front of you and what you think you see. The first attempts at drawing something from
life, from perception, invariably involve distorting what’s actually in front of you
because the brain intercedes with the eye and gives false information. For example, we know that the head has two
eyes a nose and a mouth so we will draw it that way even if in fact we don’t see both
eyes equally or we don’t see – depending upon our point of view we’ll see a partial representation
of what the brain thinks of as reality. So this is a long way around of saying that
the way to approach the visual world is to take in the information and let it work on
your cortex without, well it’s impossible to say without but while trying to stay neutral
in terms of what we think we know because part of the confusion surrounding contemporary
art is we know it’s laden with meaning and we go to it intent on ferreting out the meaning,
which sometimes happens in advance of doing the actual looking. When I say that ideally one should approach
art with a visually neutral kind of screen that visual neutrality is, of course, a kind
of cultural impossibility. None of us are neutral nor could we ever be
and probably nor should we be. When I say one should approach art with a
neutral eye what I mean is to try to log, in your brain to log what’s there physically
in terms of what was made in advance of reaching for what the thing might or might not mean. So if you’re looking at a portrait, let’s
say what is a portrait? A portrait is a painting of a face. Of course the face is the subject but the
way the face is painted, the way the portrait is presented to us in its specificity is more
important as art than who it’s a portrait of. It’s probably not possible to view art without
the filter of 17 different kinds of cultural filters. I don’t think that that would be – probably
that would require the equanimity of a Buddha, however what I’m suggesting and what I’m advocating
in the book is simply to devote some of one’s attention to the physical fact of what is
in front of us, the physical fact of what was made; how it was made; what materials
we used; how was it done kind of question as opposed to what it’s a representation of. This kind of attention is what used to be
called formalism, which I think is a little bit of a misnomer and it has been I think
unfairly or unusefully demonized as something either culturally aloof or simply not interesting. But the first principles of in any field on
any art form, music, architecture, literature, the first principles being how is it constructed,
what is it construct of, those are the kinds of perceptual questions, which anyone can
ask themselves and be aware of without any cultural training. The impulse to make art is a mysterious one. It still remains mysterious after many millennia. What is that impulse that compels someone
to make an image of something on a two-dimensional surface or a three-dimensional form for that
matter? I often think that the way to approach art
is to imagine doing it for one’s self, imagine what are the steps involved to make that thing
that you’re looking at. What would you have to do if you were going
to make that, whatever that is? Even things as banal as getting on the subway
to go to the art supply store what do you have to buy? What are the materials you have to buy? What kind of space do you need to be able
to make that thing in? In other words, one way to think about art
is to imagine yourself as the artist; imagine yourself as the maker; put yourself in the
artist’s shoes so to speak and imagine the steps that one would have to go through. Very much like when you read a cookbook and
there’s an illustrated step-by-step recipe that you follow, first you have to put these
ingredients in and then you have to preheat the oven. Sometimes imagining the banal task like steps
involved in the making something helps us to appreciate what it is that was made instead
of looking at the results in a completely meaning laden kind of away. I mean not to strain it to the breaking point
but if the cooking analogy has any use at all, we don’t ask a pie what does it mean
we just ask does it taste good. And then if you’re interested in how it stacks
up next to other pies then you might ask yourself what was the recipe and why were there ingredients
and what’s different about those from some other ingredients? All of this is another way of saying that
art is something that someone made and the human aspect of the making part of it is I
think the place where one can reliably go to both find a connection to the art and also
to get closer to whatever the artist’s emotional field might be.

61 thoughts on “The Antidote to Pretentious Art? Just Look, Don’t Think | David Salle

  1. This guy talks as though he needs to relieve himself of a significant weight.

    Modern art is often visually repulsive by design. This may be a good thing for all I know, but it makes his proposition difficult to accept.

  2. As a portrait painter and someone studying art in school, From my point all he's saying is just use your eyes and observe, think after cause some like to know 7 layers of meaning before they really observe something as a whole, from close up and far away, and down to the small details. Just look, then think.

  3. Very insightful. I particularly like what he said about people approaching art with the intent of figuring out the meaning instead of just observing the art first by its principle components. I think this idea also applies to the artists themselves. Contemporary artists have become overly obsessed with the meaning of their work and have lost sight of the construction.

  4. Why is it that when someone speaks about abstract concepts, people can't follow or assume they are high. Everything he said made perfect sense.

  5. The antidote to boring, mind-numbing talks? Just prepare yourself so you don't have to search for the right words half of the time.

  6. Problem is that with modern art there isnt much to appreciate or contemplate in the first place.
    For instance Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings. What am I supposed to see? The only way to appreciate it is to spit some pretentious argument of whatever metaphysic bullshit I can come up with. And I will probably get it wrong since the artist already wrote a whole explanation of how we are supposed to read the "piece"
    Or what about "Rollin’ rock"… ITS A FUCKING ROCK.
    I could go to a desert or a forest and have a deeper experience than a modern art museum.

  7. Why do the ingredients matter more than the cook? I agree though, the important question is "does it taste good" not "what does it mean". Art has been crippled by the specter of meaning.

    Those two tone paintings and representations of feces or the act of creating excrement confirmed for me the idiocy of modern art, not to mention pollack's puke-painting style.

  8. TL;DR: Don't assume you know what the art is about before looking at it. If you still don't get it, it's your fault, which sounds a whole lot like another cop out for making crap and calling it "art".

  9. He's right of course, but is there really any 'just looking' at something? Observing something ipso facto pretty much entails understanding it. That's kind of the whole purpose of having eyes, isn't it lol? He's right though in the sense of taking the "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" approach to pretentious art. By over-analysing it, you play right into the artist's hands, who in all probability created what he did as an attempt to mindfuck the viewer, and in the most cynical way possible. In other words, that kind of art is insincere and hostile to the viewer, and therefore devoid of virtue…

  10. "we know its laden with meaning", yeah, odd though that when you ask one of these artists what thier art means, you get a stream of pseudointellectual bollox.

  11. What a load of waffle… almost 10 mins of saying nothing. Like a lot of contemporary art today I guess. Too busy trying to be too clever and end up saying nothing and alienating 99% of people (and feeding the pretentious 1% of hipsters and art snobs).

  12. How about, "Think based on looking, not on listening to someone else who's blind." Before anyone misconstrues that, I'm speaking figuratively.

  13. Pretentious art only asks you to understand its meaning because there's rarely anything to look at.

    Went to Trafalgar Square the other day and found out they've erected (pun intended) a rather phallic looking thumbs up. It looks terrible, it's out of place, and because you can only view it from far away or right underneath it, it always looks like a massive dick. So am I supposed to appreciate this monstrosity for its looks? Hell no, the meaning of positivity is the only thing keeping everyone from seeing it for what it is, a fist with a cock for a thumb.

  14. Man this guys like one of my lectureres from when I was at uni. Probably brilliant man but listening to him is so damn sleep inducing.

    This chap should write his speech and get a good speaker to read it.

    On the subject of getting rid of pretentious art – the problem is pretentious people. We need to get rid of the 'lots of money full of shit socialites' and there will be no pretentious art.. just poor starving crazy idiots chopping cows in half and shitting in cans.

  15. I am in awe, this man just summarized the majority of what I learned after months of being in art school in a mere 10 minutes

  16. So you don't know what to do when confronted with pretentious art. It's ok that you don't know, but just say that you don't and leave it at that. Thanks anyway.


  18. When I'm asked to not use my brain and just to look, that is when I know an artists pretends to have it and his creation is not art but simply pretentious. Art needs to communicate something to the view/listener. That's why today we need those elitists who actually know the meaning of Mozart's symphonies. At first I too thought what a pathetic attempt to tell me what I'm told to think it means, but in the end it is about communication. If your creation can not convey any sort of communication, if it does not tell me anything, it means it is just a waste of my time.
    Most modern 'art' is not art. Just pretentious nonsense.

  19. im gonna open a art gallery … one that makes fun of this pretentious shit … and you may come and whole heartedly point and laugh at the shit these idiots make . and then move to the next wing where the real art is …

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