Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Who Needs an Art Critic: Law and Art Criticism, Part IV

Who Needs an Art Critic: Law and Art Criticism, Part IV

The problem isn’t just a question of technique or form (brevity, resourcefulness, practicality, and precision), it is also about perspective and substance. In A Matter of Interpretation, Justice Scalia blames law schools for erroneously teaching that the U.S. Constitution is to be interpreted loosely and freely by judges at the expense of our legislative body.

Similarly, we can say that the blame for the staid and rotten methods of art interpretation and art criticism should be placed on our art schools and university art departments. As David Mamet and Michael Kinsley ask, why is everything always filtered through politics and why is everything always thought to be wrong or fucked up? Is the perpetuation of critical theory in educational and art institutions merely a ploy of tenure-track individuals to maintain their tenure-track careers? Is critical theory another excuse to publish the book PhD candidates have been working on for years for the simple joy of having it read by 100 other tenure-track individuals?

As with Justice Scalia, one must ask, are schools now so enamored of free, loose, and relational thinking that students are taught that they can, and may, do as they wish with a text, the U.S. Constitution, a painting, an installation, or paragraph? Perhaps art criticism should take a lesson from Scalia’s textualist form of interpretation, where the objective of statutory and constitutional interpretation is to establish the original meaning of the text, and where this meaning should be construed reasonably.

In other words, critics should not look for the intent of the artist; should not load the dice for or against a particular result; should not look to the artist’s history; and should not interpret what the text ought to mean in terms of the needs and goals of our present day society. Art criticism should be analogous to our separation of powers where the artists occupy the seat of the legislature; the critic and historian the role of judge; and the reader the position of the executive branch? Would that be so bad? Perhaps then we would see less of these PhDs running around for 7 to 10 years, from city to city, researching that ever-elusive dissertation entitled, “A Heideggarian Analysis on the Work of Robert Ryman Through the Post-Colonial Pre-Gendered Pez Dispenser.”

Should educational institutions function like our current government, self-anointed with the task of teaching values rather than analytical and technical skills? Why aren’t different artists and writers introduced to students? Why not Thomas Sowell, Justice Scalia, and visiting artist presentations from the Cato Institute? Why not teach art students and critics similarly to law students, where they are exposed to writers and thinkers of all kinds, left, center, right; libertarian, conservative, and liberal; textualist, evolutionary, and living? And why law? Because unlike the other intangible and self-aggrandizing theories, law is the only practical discourse that can simultaneously test and be tested.

III. How the Impact of Law on Cultural Production and Reception Provides a Fresh and Relevant Mode of Art Criticism

In every respect, law affects the manner in which art is produced and interpreted. It is thus shocking that art, as the area that was once at the forefront of education and cultural criticism, has neglected the one discourse that has limited art’s own production, interpretation, and distribution, and yet simultaneously enabled, empowered, and liberated it and visual artists.

In the last 20-years, the awareness by artists of the intellectual property and moral rights granted to them by law has not necessarily castrated their creative output so much as educated them about the methods in which they may exploit their own creative assets in order to create a space where they may produce their work with much more freedom and independence. Take for instance the recent Annie Liebovitz situation, where Liebovitz leveraged the copyrights to her past, present, and future photographs in order to obtain a multi-million dollar loan.

Copyright as a Constitutional right is being leveraged by artists to secure additional monetary assets by allocating monetary value on something that not only does not yet exist, but that in the future will also be intangible, meaning that as a non-rival economy, Leibovitz’s copyright assets do not deny any other person–artist or otherwise–their personal, property, civil or human right.

Continued tomorrow…


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