What Art Is Online

Supplement to What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand (Open Court, 2000)
by Louis Torres & Michelle Marder Kamhi

Appendix B [Part I]

Artworld Buzzwords

From What Art Is:

What follows are examples of some of the more common buzzwords and critical clichés of the artworld. One can safely infer that whenever these words or phrases are used in arts criticism, the work in question is not art by any objective standard. Unless otherwise indicated, the emphasis in all cases is ours. For additional examples, see Louis Torres, "Blurring the Boundaries at the NEA."

For examples dating after the publication of What Art Is, see Part II.
Blur the Boundaries
"While a child disregards the reality of the broom when turning it into a fantasy horse, the Cubist collage deliberately retains the reality of the object in a continuum that breaks down the boundary between what is real and what is 'art.'" Jonathan Feinberg, "Modernism and the Art of Children," Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 March 1998.
"When Dario Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last week, it was the first time the honor had been given to an actor and clown. . . . His primary distinction is in combining all his diverse theatrical roles--[performer] . . . director . . . designer--into a single act of comic self-creation. . . . By recognizing Mr. Fo, the Swedish Academy expands the boundaries of literature." Mel Gussow, Critic's Notebook, "The Not-So-Accidental Recognition of an Anarchist," New York Times, 15 October 1997.
"The New York City Opera . . . strive[s] to present opera 'as exciting theater,' and [Paul Kellogg, its general director] remains unapologetic about pushing boundaries. 'If we are going to reach contemporary audiences with contemporary reactions and contemporary feelings,' he said, 'then we have to do things in a contemporary way. This will require education. Innovation always does.'" Anthony Tommasini, "Realism Unvarnished for Gluck's Bonded Males," New York Times, 3 October 1997.
"The great paintings of Piet Mondrian . . . tease all customary judgments of what constitutes pictorial form." Julian Bell, "Nature's Leading Edge." Review of "Mondrian: Nature to Abstraction" (Exhibition at the Tate Gallery), Times Literary Supplement, 8 August 1997.
"Even the center's more conventionally art-focused show . . . includes several pieces that straddle the boundary between art making and mass production, between art and junk." Tessa DeCarlo, "Putting a Mixer in a Museum and asking, What Is Art?," New York Times, 22 June 1997.
"What is so great about all these artists is that they are really pushing the limits not only of perception but of the existential question: 'What am I doing here?'" Louise Neri (co-curator, 1997 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial), quoted by Michael Kimmelman, "Narratives Snagged on the Cutting Edge," New York Times, 21 March 1997.
"The elasticity of drawing is always a central issue at the Drawing Center in SoHo. . . . This impressive show introduces three talented young artists, each of whom stretches drawing to create different kinds of hybrids, whether physical, intellectual or cultural. . . . The inaugural show . . . introduces the work of . . . a young English artist who pushes drawing toward film. . . . One is . . . made aware . . . of drawing's uncanny resiliency. Pushed in new directions, it still retains its inherent immediacy and magic." Roberta Smith, "Drawing That Pushes Beyond the Boundaries," New York Times, 21 March 1997.
"Fudging the boundaries between the arts is not a bad idea, though you can wonder what motivated the curators in . . . Forsythe's case, since his work refers to the formal possibilities of dance, not [visual] art." Michael Kimmelman, "Narratives Snagged on the Cutting Edge," New York Times, 21 March 1997.
"Alvaro Siza [in Portugal] is not alone in pushing the boundaries of conventional practice [in architecture] . . . the exploration of new directions. . . . the expansion of the art of architecture itself . . . reinventing architecture . . . stretching the limits of the art. . . . Gehry is pushing the very idea and definition of architecture to its limits in a very dangerous but exhilarating game. . . . There are always architects who seek ways to achieve revelations that will break through custom to new kinds of vision and design, to new definitions of art and use." Ada Louise Huxtable, "The New Architecture," New York Review of Books, 6 April 1995.
"After the innovative astonishments of fiction writers like . . . Jorge Luis Borges and Donald Barthelme (and Thomas Pynchon and John Barth and Robert Coover)--writers who have exploded the received boundaries of the form--the novel would seem to have few large surprises in store. Jonathan Baumbach, "You Can Read It Across or Down," review of Landscape Painted with Tea by Milorad Pavic, New York Times Book Review, 16 December 1990.
"Some art seeks the edge, tries to break the boundary. And other art struggles to refine, integrate, bring the past forward into the present. Who, in the end, can say with assurance which is the more valuable?" Robert Hughes, Time, 13 August 1990.
"In previous books such as Great Expectations (1984) and Don Quixote (1986), Kathy Acker not only set out to work variations on classic literary texts, but also to subvert all our traditional expectations concerning causality, narrative form and moral sensibility." Michiko Kakutani, review of Literal Madness by Kathy Acker, New York Times, 30 December, 1987.

Break Down

"'A desire to break down the barrier between art and life inspired [avant-garde artists around 1960]. So they made art using real objects, real space and time, and live human beings. They brought the audience into their art." Edward M. Gomez, "Modern Art's Missing Link: The Jersey Scene," New York Times, 21 February 1999.
"[The goal of Schoenberg's atonality] was to break down whatever expectations of melody and harmony listeners might have retained through centuries of evolution of an ever more complex tonal system." James R. Oestreich, "How Does Music Turn the Century?" New York Times, 27 December 1997.


"Follow the development of American art [from Abstract Expressionism] to the present day and discover how each new generation challenges the definition of art." From the description of "Modern Art at the Met," course listed in the Winter/Spring 1999 catalog of the 92nd Street Y, New York City.
"One of the functions of art is to stir the pot, to make us think, to challenge complacency and fixed beliefs. Art can [emphasis in original] be a threat." Richard Philp, "Success" (editorial), Dance Magazine, August 1995.
"Orlan [the 'multimedia/performance artist' who 'transforms' herself through plastic facial] surgery challenged both religious traditions and art-world assumptions, the former through blasphemous imagery, the latter with real time/real place actions identifying art with life." Barbara Rose, Art in America, February 1993.


"[Ann] Hamilton is not a creator of purely visual installations. Rather, she confronts and overwhelms her viewers. Rank odors and sweet, the grotesquerie of live vermin and rotting carcasses, the spectacle of 47,000 blue uniforms piled neatly on a platform, the artist hypnotically kneading and chewing dough. . . ." Steven Henry Madoff, "After the Roaring 80's in Art, a Decade of Quieter Voices," New York Times, 2 November 1997.

Cutting Edge

"[Martha] Schwartz's urban gardens--one of which prompted outraged neighbors to call the police--are important for their cutting-edge design [but] . . .a predominance of hardware and a shortage of plants make them unsuitable for weekend pottering." "Where the Bagels Blow," Times Literary Supplement, 26 September 1997.

Disturb (see also "Provoke")

"[Barbara] Kruger's art is in essence a quick take that disturbs and provokes thought, like a politically conscious advertisement. 'It's about the power and the use and abuse of language,' said . . . Kruger." Carol Vogel, "Three Aphorism Shows Are Better than One," New York Times, 30 October 1997.


"Gehry has constructed a furniture museum in which the utilitarian is elevated to high drama and fine art." Ada Louise Huxtable, "The New Architecture," New York Review of Books, 6 April 1995.


"'The ephemeral work that I do is a form of experimentation,' [Andy] Goldsworthy explains. 'Often I go out and don't have an idea what I'm going to do. So I tend not to use tools, because I don't know what I'm going to make, and I do love using my hands.'" Kenneth Baker, "Searching for the Window into Nature's Soul," Smithsonian, February 1997.


"A client's site, his budget and his program--how many bedrooms . . . the need for such things as a home office . . . --obviously play a role in determining the final form. But these things must be fit into [Charles] Gwathmey and [Robert] Siegel's continuing quest to explore the nature of architectural space." Paul Goldberger, "The Masterpieces They Call Home," New York Times Magazine, 12 March 1995.


"[T]he show ['Wordrobe,' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute] is an investigation of the use of letters, words, numbers, and printed messages in the clothes of the twentieth century." Tobi Tobias, "Read My Clothes," New York, 15 September 1997.
"Recent paintings that investigate spatial ambiguity through the juxtaposition of patterns. . . ." Art (Gallery Listings), New York, 15 September 1997.


"Robert Gober [has a] . . . reputation for . . . uncannily provocative sculptures and installations, at once witty and disturbing. A leg, replete with hair, trouser, sock and shoe, juts from a wall." Steven Henry Madoff, "After the Roaring 80's in Art, a Decade of Quieter Voices," New York Times, 2 November 1997.


"The films and videos are more integrated with the rest of the biennial than usual, and quirkier than much of it. David Hammons's short video of a man kicking a bucket down a street is a wry dirge." Michael Kimmelman, "Narratives Snagged on the Cutting Edge," New York Times, 21 March 1997.

Redefine (Reinvent)

"Theory can redefine architecture or derail it." Ada Louise Huxtable, "The New Architecture," New York Review of Books, 6 April 1995.


Techno-Seduction exhibition co-sponsored by the College Art Association--CAA News, Vol. 22, No. 2, March/April 1997. Michael Kimmelman, "Inventing Shapes to Tease the Mind and Eye," New York Times, 26 September 1997.

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