DONALD KUSPIT

Dates: 1935-

Nationality: American

Donald Kuspit (b. March 26, 1935) is an American art critic, poet, and Distinguished Professor of art history and philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and professor of art history at the School of Visual Arts. Kuspit is one of America’s most distinguished art critics. He was formerly the A. D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University (1991-1997). He received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism in 1983 (given by the College Art Association). His essay “Reconsidering the Spiritual in Art” appears in Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Donald Kuspit’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 October 2010, 03:01 UTC, <en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Donald_Kuspit&oldid=391169870>

A photographic detail from the Hirst installation Home, Sweet Home – consisting of a clutter of fag ends, beer bottles, coke cans, coffee cups and sweet wrappings on a table – graces the cover of The End of Art. Valued at around $7000, Home, Sweet Home was famously binned by humble cleaner Emmanuel Asare, who afterwards explained, to the amusement of the Press, that he did so because he “didn’t think for a second that it was a work of art.” Neither does Donald Kuspit.

Indeed, Home, Sweet Home is so far beyond what can properly considered art, Kuspit believes, that he uses the term “postart” to describe it. And, like Asare, Kuspit engages in a spot of enlightened cleaning in an attempt to remove the postmodern clutter that threatens to swamp our artistic landscape. Kuspit traces the genealogy of the postart aesthetic from Marcel Duchamp’s announcement of an “entropic split” between intellectual expression and animal expression (which led to the reification of concept over form, and from there to a nihilistic pessimism) through Warhol’s commercialism (which blurred the line between art and business) to Hirst’s installations (which reflect postmodernism’s preoccupation with the banal objects and situations of our everyday lives).

Whereas modern art consisted of revolutionary experiments motivated by a desire to express aspects of the newly-discovered “unconscious mind,” Kuspit argues, postart is shallow, unreflective banality motivated by the desire to become institutionalized; that is, part of the mainstream (along with the commercial reward that such co-opted acceptability brings). In this regard, the messianic zeal with which Van Gogh approached his work represents an ideal because it demonstrates the kind of authentic and individualistic commitment to artistic expression that today’s commercialized postartists lack. The crucifixion has become a cabaret.

Kuspit points out that it was to a very different kind of institution – the psychiatric ward – that modern artists were drawn. In an attempt to understand how the unconscious and madness can affect the creative process, modern artists turned their attention to the artworks of psychiatric patients. Modern art went on to find its greatest glories in the dark and mysterious world of the human unconscious. This is the anti-Allegory of the Cave, an emergence into night.

Acknowledging that modern art’s engagement with madness produced imperfect (but important) art, Kuspit’s new book attacks the postartists for substituting modern art’s authentic engagement with madness for the cozy passivity of the television documentary. Fearful of the dark and unpredictable world of the unconscious (largely because they are ignorant of it), postartists engage in mimicry of madness. The failure of creativity that characterizes postart, Kuspit notes, is highlighted in the way that postartists fail to imagine that there is a flicker of madness inside us all.

Typical post-art values include: a tendency to mock posterity, a tendency to elevate the banal to the status of the enigmatic and the scatological to the status of the sacred, and a preference for concept-driven art. Postart is art at the service of the mind and the product of joyless, “clever, clever” theorizing. Entertainment value and commercial panache are valued more highly than artistic ability or aesthetic worth and painting is perilously close to becoming a sub-genre of performance art. Kuspit blends psychoanalytic criticism, philosophy, and non-technical art history to make a powerful and compelling case for dismissal of the postart aesthetic. The End of Art will appeal to anyone who has ever felt cheated by the produce of the postmodern establishment.

If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that Kuspit’s description of the New Old Masters is largely confined to a postscript. This group, which includes Lucien Freud and Jenny Saville, might be our artistic saviours, Kuspit claims, inasmuch as they represent values that simultaneously evoke the spirituality and humanism of the Old Masters and the innovation and criticality of the New Masters, enabling them to transcend the suicidal intellectualism and socio-political fixations of postart.

Cole, Emmett. “Emmett Cole Interviews Donald Kuspit.” themodernword.com. <www.themodernword.com/reviews/kuspit.html>

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