Hey, Nobody’s Perfect!

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault’s “The Derby at Epsom” (1821) is a lovely record of the artist’s time in England, but what it includes a big mistake in the way he illustrates the horses galloping. It was only in 1878, with Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic experiments, that the world knew once and for all what horses legs looked like when they galloped, and it wasn’t like this (image via Wikipedia).

Mistakes? Who, me? I suspect a lot of what I have written is considered mistaken by many. And if I re-read my hundreds of essays and 25 books, I’d certainly find some I no longer agree with. But writing about art is a decidedly subjective endeavor. I’m not an art critic, an adversary of artists. I’m an advocate for the artists who have taught me all that I know about art. I’ve never read something by one of my peers and thought s/he’s mistaken! although I have often disagreed. Whose mistake is that? It’s not the writer’s. We write about what we like, and what we dislike (though after a few years I decided not to waste my time on art I didn’t like and save my attacks for society). Readers can figure out if they are on our wavelength or not and then they can agree with us or not.

After almost six decades of art and other writing, I know that I have sometimes let prejudice overwhelm esthetics. For instance, I wasn’t enthusiastic about Anthony Caro’s work. (It was the one show I missed reviewing for Art International’s New York Letter when I gave birth to my son in 1964.) Years later I looked at his sculpture and decided he was pretty damn good. My dislike of Greenberg and his acolytes had influenced me. (It was mutual; a Greenbergian painter once told me to my face that everything I wrote was “beneath contempt.”)

There is only one thing I can recall (blame old age) that I now know was an absolutely stupid mistake. I don’t remember the exact date, but around 1969 I called Charles Manson a performance artist, in an attempt to be way cooler than I ever was. I’m not even sure (can’t find the original) that I even called Manson a BAD performance artist. What on earth was I thinking? Well, it was a time when I was (I still am) heavy into breaking down the barriers between art and life. Performance art itself made strides in the intervening decades with artists like Suzanne Lacy and Dread Scott bringing art into “life” contexts, or vice versa. I’m always quoting Robert Filliou: “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.” And my own writing is now more about life than about art. Another mistake? Who knows? Who knows anything these crazy days?

I’ve never read something by one of my peers and thought ‘s/he’s mistaken!’ Although I have often disagreed. Whose mistake is that? It’s not the writer’s.Read MoreEssays, Anthony Caro, Clement Greenberg, Mistakes Issue, Sunday EditionHyperallergicRead More

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