Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Are dialogue, collaboration and appropriation "the lifeblood of all great art” and "the very quintessence of culture itself” as has been suggested recently?  I'd say that's true of some segments of popular culture.  Certainly, collaboration is the name of the game in Hollywood, and appropriation is definitely the lifeblood of Madison Avenue. I suppose you could argue too, in a Hegelian sort of way, that a dialogue between two artists might, if the dialogue were an argument, lead to a synthesis that advanced art, or, that if the dialogue were jazz-like, the conversation itself might be artistic.  But I wonder if appropriation can, under any circumstances, be called the lifeblood of art.  Even collaborations and dialogues are problematic.

A long time ago I had the opportunity to collaborate on a project with a relatively well-known and successful painter who was, at the time, interested in making the remnants of ancient signs more visible in the modern world.  He asked me to produce some handmade "paper" for a series he was doing for the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston.  I was working out of Galveston, Texas, at the time.  The pieces of paper he had in mind were large photographs of a performance piece he was planning to put on at the Imperial Sugar Company warehouse on the wharf in Galveston.  I filmed some of the performance and made some black-and-white photo murals that were quite large for that time: single sheets of paper, some as large as 4' x 5', processed in huge, open tanks of chemicals in a commercial darkroom in an old Galveston building.  It took my crew of 4 people several days to produce the prints.  I ended up with some kind of chemical pneumonia from making the murals and doing the studies for the big prints in a small, poorly-ventilated darkroom in Austin, Texas.

The artist "transformed" my photo murals into art by covering them with hair, blood and semen, pins and needles, dirt and other materials.  They were first shown at the CAM and, later, some of them made a nationwide tour before ending up in the Menil collection in Houston.

For forty years, I've thought of what the artist did to my prints as "enhancing" them in some way -- as if by laying his art-world-acknowledged hands on my photos he was turning essentially worthless paper into real art. Amusing, but a little sad.

Recently, I learned that an old LA Times review of one of the artist's retrospectives had mentioned my photographs.

"A group of photographs that might be overlooked amid this sensual overload is conceptually the most interesting piece in the show. Not the usual documentary report of a performance, these black-and-white photos are more like remnants of 'Sugar Sacrifice,' a private, filmed event held in 1974 at a sugar warehouse in Galveston, Tex.

"Setting up a painted 'rug' and 'altar' in the shadow of a 20,000-pound mountain of sugar, Tracy 'sacrificed' what he regarded as his best painting. Symbolically, he meant to sacrifice art to food as a gesture of serving the greater good in a world where he believes hungry people outnumber the well-fed.

"Politically motivated art can rarely be more than a conscience-raiser. This grandiose but hermetic ritual only exists on film and photographs, but the pictures suggest a visually powerful extravaganza in which the sugar resembles an Egyptian pyramid and a warehouse is transformed into a mystically charged landscape."

Over the years, I've become more and more convinced that the best "collaborations" and "dialogues" are the ones that take place inside the same skull.


Quinn the Eskimo said...

I'm just now reading "The Swerve," by Stephen Greenblatt, about the discovery of a copy of Lucretius' work by a Medieval "book-hunter," named Poggio Bracciolini.

One of the best parts describes how the monks doing the copying would complain about the parchment they had to use. The pages were often hairy, and the monks had to keep a pumice stone on hand to constantly smooth it out.

In many cases, they would also scrape off the ink from the older writings, in order to have a new page to copy upon. Thus were many thousands of great Classic Roman and Greek works lost - scraped off by medieval monks, usually amidst curses about the bad lighting, the hair, and the wretched tools they were given to work with.

I believe the analogy is complete.

Billy Glad said...

For me, the troubling thing about Mr. Ward-Bergeman's assertion that "appropriation" is part of "the lifeblood of all great art” and "the very quintessence of culture itself” is that someone might infer that Ward-Bergeman sees nothing wrong with appropriation as a way of composing. Maybe his choice of the word "appropriation" with its connotation of "stealing" was just imprecise. But for someone involved in a flap about the provenance of a piece of music to say that "stealing" is the lifeblood of great art makes me wonder exactly what is going on over there in the world of modern classical music.

Quinn the Eskimo said...

And also, you know what they do to collaborators.

Even in France.

Billy Glad said...

Especially in France.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

"Over the years, I've become more and more convinced that the best "collaborations" and "dialogues" are the ones that take place inside the same skull."

I wish I could remember where I read this, but some academic calls this "self pastiche." Ha!

Billy Glad said...

Nice segues, quinn and girl. The hive mind at work. I just started re-reading some film theory, beginning with Bazin, Sarris and Wollen, to make sure a film really isn't anything but an occasion to talk about ourselves. Bazin, who ran an underground cinema during the Nazi occupation, naturally had a more serious -- a more existential -- view of the movies than I. I'm pretty sure when all is said and done I'll still be in the one or two omelette school. The problem with inner dialogues and collaborations is they require a certain lack of conviction in order to proceed. Lack of conviction is the kiss of death in pop culture.

Billy Glad said...

Haha! Like Mansky McTommanoff, the mere mention of a work by GFTB can make it a hit. I just bought "Maldoror and the Complete Works of the Comte de Lautréamont" from Amazon! No mas, Chiquita. My budget is busted.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Okay, here we go again, getting home schooled at the Hive. I didn't no nothing about this Maldoror book. But when I looked it up and saw this review....

"After more than a century it still has the power to shock, startle and repulse."

I thought, oh yeah, this is for Billy. But did you get the Lykiard translation? Apparently it's the best. ( That was said very nasally, with the most pompous tone I can muster)

The hive is smokin'!

GirlfromtheBronx said...


When I read more about your Comte de Lautréamont/ Isidore Ducasse, I immediately wondered if there was a connection to the composer Erik Satie. So I googled them together and here's what I came up with:

It seems another writer, composer, Paul Bowles, who wrote The Sheltering of the Sky made his list of 10 favorite Dinner Guests in History:

1. Gautam Buddha
2. Isabelle Eberhardt
3. Judas Iscariot
4. Petronius Arbiter
5. Joseph Conrad
6. Isidore Ducasse (Comte de Lautréamont)
7. Erik Satie
9. Jeanne d'Arc
10 Anton Chekhov

I gotta keep googling. I'm bound to find more.

Quinn the Eskimo said...

Get this.

Google says that the phrase, "life is a segue," has only appeared twice previously on the internet. (Once on some Christian Ministry in Dallas site, the other talking about being sick and dying and such.)

Now how the hell could a thought that deep - or that trite - somehow only have been put in words twice before on the Net?

I thought the Net was the place for thoughts like that? Maybe it was just so obvious to everyone else that nobody bothered to say it.

Well, fuck 'em. That's what I'm here for - to say the unsayable.

Life is a segue.

Somebody's gotta stand up for phrases like that.

Somebody else can tell us all what it's a segue to. I've already done the heavy intellectual lifting here.

Quinn the Eskimo said...

And also, is Bowles serious? You telling me you'd rather have dinner with Conrad than Nietzsche? That's just piss-poor taste, in my humble.

Ok. Or this. Who would you rather have over for dinner - Chekov... or the last Neanderthal? No brainer.

Or Jeanne D'Arc, or.... the person/people who built Gobekli Tepe? Or painted those damned horses all over those French and Spanish caves?

This Bowles guy seems like someone who'd rather invite Herzog over to babble on about the damned horses in the caves than the original painters.

On the other hand, is Sheltering Sky really worth a read? Never actually cracked the cover. (I prefer to stay as ignorant as possible of the reality of those I disrespect.)

LOL. (That one was for Tom.)

Billy Glad said...

Well, girl, if you don't want credit for the bump in sales of Maldoror, I'll take it. And if you can think of a better example of "self pastiche" than Comte de Lautréamont, I'll buy that. I'm certainly not lloking forward to reading Maldoror!

I'd never seen that list by Bowles. I wonder if the idea is to have those guests all at once to the same dinner party. That might explain why the last Neanderthal didn't make the guest list, quinn. I like all of Bowles' novels. I'd start with Up Above the World, then move on to the Morrocan books. Bowles' wife, Jane, was stuck trying to describe something -- a bridge I think -- and he said "just say there was a bridge."

Billy Glad said...

Just to get us on the same page. The Hive mind transcendant.

Billy Glad said...

According to Genette: "We are dealing with pastiche (or caricature, or forgery) when the operations of its text exhibit the imitation of a style."

So I suppose self-pastiche would be imitating one's own style, while simple pastiche would be imitating the style of someone else.

One of my interminable projects is a retelling of the Iliad from the point of view of Thetis, Achilles' mother. Probably never get done, because it requires a voice that is feminine and rooted in ancient Greece, but, at the same time, contemporary and conversational.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Too much to discuss now. So DON'T even think of taking down this post.

As to your Iliad project:
Billy, you could always "discover" a female character and hoax her up . Say, a lost cousin once removed of Achiles. What shall we call her? I always got a kick out of the name Ajax. Maybe we can call her Clorox! Contemporary and conversational..

Billy Glad said...

I like that, girl. For me, though, it's a road not taken that would have led me exactly where I am now, needing to either get in touch with a real voice somewhere in me or develop a convincing pastiche. I am going to stick with my impulse to simply let Thetis -- an immortal -- address us directly, but it's reassuring to know I'm not completely trapped alone inside this old skull.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Whatever happened to your Madonna? That's a voice and a half. Is she still rattling around in there?

Billy Glad said...

Oh yes. There are 3 of them. Thetis, the Madonna and Live Wire, whom I now call "the girl." Goddess trilogy. When I'm done, if I ever get done, and I have anything left to say about women, it will be because I finally got old enough to see them clearly.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Hmmm, when you say you now call her "the girl", I assume your are either quoting, evoking, alluding, borrowing, reworking, arranging, homaging, reconstituting or something else? Do I need to call my lawyer?

Billy Glad said...

First, you have to put your old avatar back up. Can you really sue someone for homage? Anyway. It's the Madonna I modeled after you, not Live Wire.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Oh, my goodness, I completely forgot about her. Haha! It's been ages. Can't sue you if I can't even remember my former "self" that being homaged!

Tom Manoff said...

I just caught up with this one this morning. Let me take a f,,,,,breath and read....

you smart crazies......................................................!

gasket said...

Sometimes great art is a pastiche of ungreat art. This is not a comment on Billy's art, by the way. I'm thinking about past movements (like Dadaism, for example), as well as how we assess living artists in relation to a canon (like assessing Woody Allen, for example).

Ward-Bergeman and Golijov keep getting compared to geniuses: Bach, Schubert and Beethoven.

However, it is not for Ward-Bergeman himself to imply—let alone say, as he does in the Times article—that his creative efforts fall into the category of "great art" or the "quintessence of culture itself." Please! We are not entitled to call our own work great. We may think of our work as great, but we must recuse ourselves from saying it. Time determines what is great.

"[Ward-Bergeman] also blamed the 'impoverishment of our culture and media' for 'judging the artistic process' of a master like Mr. Golijov." No, we are not judging the process. We are matching the ego with the output and coming up short.

Quinn the Eskimo said...

I blame the Jews.

Oh wait. Wrong blog?

Billy Glad said...

My "art" was so long ago it's practically irrelevant. My film and photograpy is like quinn's poetry and fiction. Something I used to do. Ward-Bergeman reminds me of myself forty years ago. He doesn't have a clue.

Quinn the Eskimo said...

53's the new 35.

I'm just hitting my stride. Besides, I had to learn to drink first.

I'm pretty good at it now. Figure I'm ready.

Billy Glad said...

Guess I'm the only one who is content to be a has been. But I got a few years on you.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Somebody's shoveling shit again. "Has been" my ass! All depends on what the definition of IS is.

IS, WAS and always will BE!

Gasket, I will be returning to comment on your comment. This is just too rich!

"Sometimes great art is a pastiche of ungreat art."

Billy Glad said...

You ladies better bring some examples if you are going to peddle that theory around here. And no fair using Annals of the Hive as an example. Ha!

GirlfromtheBronx said...

You want examples my man, oh, I got examples for you. But be warned that any minute, I may have to cut out of here cause I got a gin and tonic date coming up. Finally gonna get me some!

Okay, here's a quickie example of "great art being an example of ungreat art."

In the German Lied tradition, there are composers who have made the conscious decision to set great poetry to music (Schubert's many settings of Goethe) and those who chose to never set great poetry, believing there's no need to mess with something that is already so perfect.

Brahms was such a composer. He often chose mediocre poetry to set and these would become some of Lieder's greatest masterpieces.

Does that count? I suppose these could be more accurately considered examples of collaboration than a pastiche of something else.

I'll be back.....

Billy Glad said...

I think it counts, because I assume gasket's remark referred to "pastiche" as a hodge-podge or aggregation as opposed to "imitation of a style." So, in that sense, I'd say Brahms' choice of mediocre poetry would be a good example -- as would the French new wave directors' choice of pulp fiction and dime store novels to base their films on for much the same reasons.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

When I think of pastiche, I think of it more like putting a quilt together-- separate units put together(can be one artist or the work of more) ideally with some form and structure in mind to create something unique.

To me , the hodgepodge is either an unsuccessful pastiche, getting a result that's not quite as informed or someone who is purposefully throwing a lot elements together to see what comes up. The surprise is it's own reward!

I think some of my earlier I-jot experiments were more hodgepodge than pastiche.

Okay, but now, looking at the words themselves:

Hodegpodge comes from old French:

In French hochepot was a stew of many foods cooked together in a pot. Perhaps the pot was shaken instead of stirred since hochepot was formed from hochier, meaning "to shake," and pot, which had the same meaning in early French as it does in English now. Before long hotchpotch and hodgepodge were used not just for a mixture of foods cooking in a pot but for any mixture of different things.”

A confused mixture.

Pastiche comes from the Italian "pasticcio" - pie, something blended.
A work of art, drama, literature, music, or architecture that imitates the work of a previous artist.
A musical medley, typically quoting other works.
An incongruous mixture; a hodgepodge.
(uncountable) A postmodern playwriting technique that fuses a variety of styles, genres, and story lines to create a new form.

I give up......Smorgasbord anyone?