What is Art? Frank’s Letter to the Workshop

Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of June 15, 2021

Hi Everybody-

Art historian Jane Kallir’s Spring 2021 newsletter https://kallirresearch.org/does-the-artworld-still-exist/ poses what sounds like a metaphysical question: “Does the ‘Artworld’ still exist?” The concept of the Artworld was defined in a 1964 article by Arthur Danto https://prettydeep.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/dantoartworld.pdf as (Kallir’s formulation): “a coterie of cognoscenti (artists, critics, collectors, curators and so on), who supported a common art-historical narrative with the power to transform a soup can from supermarket staple into museum object.” 

A closed group of people determined the aesthetic value of objects, and decided whether they would hang in museums and be written about. This has been the same group of objects whose auction prices have risen since the 1980s. Kallir notes that it was in everyone’s interest, therefore, to equate market prices with objective value. “Savvy collector/dealers could stockpile canvases by, say, Warhol or Picasso, taking advantage of momentary dips in auction prices, with the assurance that their investments would eventually pay off. Thus was born the blue-chip market.” Among most people I know, this is a fairly well accepted view of the way the art world has worked in our lifetimes.

Kallir asks what happens to the “Artworld” now, that the financial world of markets and auctions has been disrupted? The value of art is still inextricably tied up with money, but money has moved. She talks about the counter-narratives that have arisen with the internet, as artists like KAWS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaws) bypass the traditional Artworld and connect directly with consumers via the internet:  

  • The melding of “high” and “low”
  • The embrace of narratives created by women and people of color 

Can you use the concept of counter-narrative in your poetry to overwrite shopworn and accepted ideas of “good” writing?

Some of my analogs to what Kallir provides for the Artworld are 

  • the establishment of “low” patterns like 4 x 4 or limericks and the intrusions on them by “sublime” lyrical passages
  • poems in other forms like instruction manuals, tv scripts, or newspaper articles
  • the adoption of plainspokenness, and humble conceits
  • eschewing a good ending, just writing a no frills ending where the poem lands

A prompt is to write a poetic monologue for the KAWS sculpture above.

Author: dzirilli

poet, cartoonist, editor of Now Culture