February 12, 2009

Criticizing Critics' Criticism

I am fascinated with the way politics is discussed in our modern 24 hour news cycle. Cable news now reports on politics literally around the clock. There are 3 different all news all the time cable networks. (CNN, MSNBC, and FoxNews.) By the nature of competitive markets, sensationalization and theatre are becoming the norm. Everyone must make something more exciting so that people will watch. This not only affects how we talk about politics, but also how politicians act in the face of constant media scrutiny. Many times two politicians will be pitted against each other, and much of what you see on the news becomes opinion. Arguing and accusing sometimes replace serious discourse, and "spinning" blurs facts until no one know what to believe.

Punditry has become a commentary on commentary. One snippet of news is rehashed for 24 hours, usually between aforementioned opposite ideologies. Many times this "Crossfire" format leads to exciting and impassioned debates where name calling, yelling, and condescending smugness provides entertainment along with the analysis. Much like the news is based on reaction to news, sometimes the best part of a project is the reaction to it. In the media, in entertainment, and in architecture alike. Illicited responses are a lot of fun. Many television programs are centered around getting responses from people. This is a skit from a popular TV show:

The actions in the video are great, an absurd concept carried out to perfection. The idea of a blind guy driving and crashing into the car in front of him is successful because of its simplicity. It is clever, but not over the top. A middle ground is tread upon, and a deadpan approach underscores the blend of clever and simple. A great deal of restraint is also shown. Skits are never allowed to be taken too far. But what really makes the video and many others is the responses of the people who are inadvertently involved in such spectacle. It could be argued that the reaction is actually more important than the actual activity. Would the activity exist without the people around who will react to it? By the way, I know what you are thinking. Who links Jackass on a blog like this? Well, I am reminded of a game Robert Venturi used to play with Denise Scott Brown: "I can like something worse than you can like."

The AT&T Building By Philip Johnson, when first constructed was very confrontational. It opened up the floodgates for the fight between the Modernists and the PostModernists. I will not get into the specifics of this fight, although there were some nasty things tossed back and forth, with each side accusing the other of things like Nazi sympathizing. Much like contemporary politics! Each side criticized the other, both with their work, and their words. Charles Jencks calls this "Critical Modernism." All -Modernisms exist simulataneously and criticize each other. PostModernism is one of those -Modernisms. The modernists called PostModernism among other things "architectural AIDS" and "transvestite architecture."

Triton and Nereide, 1873-4

The Dada movement met similar opposition, especially in its early years. Actually, in a prelude to Dada, Arnold Bocklin's work represented one of the earliest attempts at intersecting wit and playfulness into serious art. He was a painter who would paint conventional paintings about mermaids with chicken legs instead of fish bodies and other such absurdities. It was met with strong criticism, even inciting mobs at one point.
"With your small painting of the sirens you have provoked in Basel a highly comical revolution, a life and death struggle. The so-called connoisseurs of art huddled in armies before it, with monocles and opera glasses like blowflies around sugar granules, simultaneously screaming and quarreling with one another... only when the painting left did the storm subside."

Sirenen, 1875

As Bocklin's career went on, he was often attacked for his "baroque tastelessness" and his being a "degenerate." As these criticisms were being unleashed on Bocklin, the artist's advocates fought back and took their countrymen to task. It was critics criticizing criticism.
"It is the intention of the artist that we laugh at some of his figures, just as some of Shakespeare's characters are meant to make us laugh. Strangely enough a number of otherwise art-loving viewers seem not to be able to understand or relate to this idea. They view it as a weakness of Bocklins work if one of his figures contributes to their amusement!"

Self Portrait

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