THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS

Letters to the Editor

 

Diane Thodos Replies to Stephen Eisenman

 

Dear Editor,

 

I am writing in response to Steve Eisenman’s recent critique of my essay “How Neoliberal Economics Impacted Art Education” in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue.

First, he is incorrect in assuming I make a “direct connection…between the rise of ‘anti-art’…and the reigning ideology of monopoly capitalism.” I state something very different: “conceptualism and postmodern ideology had worked to deskill the art object and detach it from its human content…this emptying out paved the way for market values to fill the void.” The dematerialization of art was causal to its appropriation by market forces, and as we know, capitalism abhors a vacuum.

Second, it is commendable that Carl Andre had been a progressive activist, but that does not change how his reductive, minimalist art formula deskilled art making, leading to the situation described above.

Third, Eisenman states that I got Neo-Dada’s chronology wrong, but the historical period of Fluxus in the 1960s was not my subject. I talk about how conceptualism coexisted with traditional and skilled art forms until the 1990s when it became a practical hegemony as the favored art form in higher education. Many essays from Kuspit’s anthologies of this period critique this same trend.

Fourth, Eisenman claims that the relationship I draw between conceptually based teaching and market success is “ludicrous.” Yet conceptual art occupies the lion’s share of articles in Artforum as well as exhibits in contemporary art museums. There are acres of conceptual art in today’s art fairs where the engines of speculative commodification are constantly roaring. Such power and promotion is hard to miss. To not see this is simply ludicrous.

Fifth, Eisenman mentions that conceptually taught art of social practice programs are not about pursuing financial rewards. It is true that social activism is indeed about the opposite. But on these grounds I feel public deserves a vigorous debate about what are the results these programs achieve. How do they qualify what is effective? Is the focus on classroom-based theory or joining social movements off campus and in communities? Do these programs address the unfairness of massive loan debt that will oppress their students for years to come? There are plenty of questions to ask here.

Finally I have to question Eisenman’s association of conceptually based pedagogy with the “disparaged and hardly ever rewarded” critical thinking of Adorno and Kuspit. I recommend he read Kuspit’s 2004 anthology “The End of Art,” which transparently argues how conceptualism helped lead to the defamatory banalization of all art. To my mind this makes his own strains of intellectual sincerity seem—to borrow his own phrase—fatuous.

 

Diane Thodos

 

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