Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Art about Art

Inspired by Colberg's latest, I went to look at Thomas Ruff's pictures around the internets. I think I have heard of this guy, but wasn't familiar with his work, and Colberg made it sound interesting.

As an aside, is there some law in Germany that if you're a crashing bore you have to go live in Düsseldorf? The Bechers were up to something, but christ, their students...

Anyways, Ruff is in the business of making Art about Art.

Art about cars is interesting to art people, and car people. Potentially. Art about flowers is interesting to flower people and art people. Art about people is interesting to people and art people, which is, well, it's just people isn't it? Art about Art is interesting to Art people and Art people. That's just Art people.

These are, luckily, exactly the people you need to get interested in your work, because they have the walls to hang it on, they run the museums, the galleries, the shows. They're the critics who talk mainly to other Art people.

So if you do this you're taking steps toward success, but you've lost your bloody way. Art about Art is boring as shit to normal people. It's a stupid, pointless, circle-jerk. Yes, there are moments in time when Art needs a good kick in the ass, but they're not always, not 100% of the time, and anyways most Art about Art isn't doing that. You're not Duchamp, bro, and anyways that was a long time ago. Art, good Art, is accessible to more than a few poncy dipshits standing around smoking Gauloises. Art, good Art, engenders thoughts, enlarges, engages, across a larger field. Perhaps not the great unwashed, but at least more people.

People would rightly mock Art about Paperclips, but by god that might just reach a broader audience.

Back to Ruff. Ruff claims to be "exploring" and "deconstructing" photography.

Exploring photography is like exploring Zurich. It's already full of people, and the only people who really give much of a shit about it are already there. Ruff's claim to fame here seems to be that he does more or less the same old shit, but he prints it really big, and he does an obsessively huge number of whatever it is. So, you know, he's not some dilettante on flickr, he's very serious about huge dead-eyed portraits and weird computer generated bullshit. Plus, he's pedigreed you know.

Maybe Ruff pioneered the huge dead-eyed portrait? I don't know, but that's a vein that's been thoroughly mined out by now, and let us be honest: there wasn't anything there. It's not clear that even being the first here is exactly a feather in the old cap.

Here in the USA we know all about pedigree. We've been knee deep in assholes who "studied with Ansel Adams" for decades now, and they all suck.

Deconstructing is worse. You can deconstruct anything, it consists of saying "but why?" like a five year old over and over, and then saying "look, nothing means anything!" and then banging impressionable freshmen until you're too sore to move. In some remarks I stumbled over, Ruff claims to be showing how, contrary to popular understanding, the photograph lies, it lies all the time. Mostly what it does is lie.

Ok, sure, Thomas. That was a sophisticated point of view in 1970, but if you look around as you explore Zurich and ask any of those people what they think, they'll tell you that photographs lie a lot. Ask me. I've said it often enough.

This is the usual post-modernism routine, which is deeply bankrupt. Meaning does, manifestly, exist. "Proving" that it does not by asking "why?" over and over again (carefully disguising your inner five year old with a complex and inscrutable vocabulary, so the freshmen don't notice) does not change the fact that meaning exists.

Photos lie, but they also carry a lot of truth. Again, ask me. They carry the literal truth of what was in front of the lens, at least. With a bit of honesty on the part of the photgrapher and the editor, they can and often do carry a narrative which corresponds fairly well to the real world. Yes, it's a construct, like language, but language too carries means (shut up, po-mo boobs, it manifestly does).

So, anyways. I guess I don't like Ruff's pictures very much.


  1. Mm, dyspeptic! I recommend magnesium trisilicate mixture, necked straight from the bottle.


    1. The churning broth in my belly is the only thing that animates this wretched body of mine to a semblance of life!

  2. Bang on, Andrew. About Ruff, I mean ...

  3. If you have not, you might enjoy reading:

    That is, the umlaut is on Jörg and not Colberg! :)

    1. Yeah, wow, what the heck is THAT about? I just figured out how to actually GET umlauts without just cutting and pasting them from elsewhere, so I guess I got excited about my nëw föünd skïll!

      I could claim, I guess, that I'm talking about the famed scandanavian death-metal band, Cölberg, and their new song THOMAS RUFF but I doubt anyone would believe me.

      Will go correct it now ;)

    2. I think you are confusing that with the German Heavy Metal Band Rammstein's 'RUFF STRUTH' -

  4. "As an aside, is there some law in Germany that if you're a crashing bore you have to go live in Düsseldorf?"

    If you ask the residents of Cologne, then yes.

    Best, Thomas

  5. Btw, have you noticed that if you get a "featured comment" on TOP, there's never a link to your site? I mean, really, what is the point?


    1. I can't imagine that it's because Mike would like to avoid being associated with my blog ;)

      No, no, no! I like Mike, and I am sure it's entirely because he correctly recognizes that I don't want to publicize my blog, particularly. We have a pleasant group here and it alarms me when my traffic spikes.

      So far I have not had to fight off any armies of unwashed idiots, but I feel sure the day will come.

    2. FYI, I don't even have a blog and the same thing has happened to me on those few occasions when I've a comment featured.

  6. "Exploring photography is like exploring Zurich. It's already full of people, and the only people who really give much of a shit about it are already there"


  7. It seems quite a broad judgement, since as far I can see Ansel Adams assistants had quite distinctive trajectories, so I'd be interested if you could you elaborate why the photographers who "studied with Ansel Adams" are "assholes", and what makes them "suck"?

    1. Well, for starters I am using my usual enthusiastic broad brush.

      The most obvious name is Fred Picker, who I found to be absolutely insufferable and derivative, and who made a fairly complete career out of his relationship with Adams.

      But more generally, there are (were, anyways) 1000s or people who had taken some workshop or another and would go on about that, wrapping themselves in the mantle as it were, while producing slavish but lousy copies.

      We also have this sort of gushing piece:

      in which "disciples" "imbibed wisdom" ugh. I googled "students of Ansel Adams" and that was literally the first thing I clicked on, but it's typical of the glurge that surrounds Adams and his students. Now, it's unfair to be irritated with John Sexton over some reporter's idiotic language,
      I'm sure John and all the other chaps are (generally) pretty good guys.

      That said, if we then go pick a name at random from the list given in that article, in this case John Sexton, and go remind ourselves what his work looks like, we wind up with on which, while not as bogglingly annoying as the Monterey County Weekly article, is still pretty twee.

      And the pictures all look like extremely competent Ansel Adams copies. In many cases I can literally identify the picture that this one is a clear derivative of.

      And so it goes every time.

      I dare say that if you studied Adams and his students, you'd be able to identify the threads of relationship but also the innovation, the unique identities of the artists, and so on.

      But it's all buried under the press, the people who took a workshop, and even the Good Students are stuck promoting the things that look most like Adams, because that's what sells.

      From the outside, therefore, it all looks like name dropping, coattail riding, insufferable press releases, and derivative pictures.

  8. So they suck mostly because the work is derivative? I think if your technique is the fine detailed B&W print, and your main subject the natural landscape, it's not that easy to differentiate your work from Ansel Adams. That doesn't mean that within this limited space, the work is a copy. You mentioned Düsseldorf, at least the Bechers students used vastly different techniques and subjects.