PRINT November 1968



Systems Esthetics (Sept. 1968) is not worse than other articles like it, but it is typical and pernicious.

The word-use and imagery are congested and lack logical integration. In the land of Systems Esthetics, needs revolve around concerns, priorities revolve around problems, transition expresses state, a viewpoint is focused, a set arises, judgment demands, evolution embraces, grasp is ever-expanding, there are parallel illusions, a striking parallel exists between a new car and a syndrome, vast crises are precipitated by product design, a sense of radical evolution looms beneath the surface of a dichotomy, and a long-held idea is situated between media and vandalism. All this and more can be had on the first page.

The miserable writing gives away the thoughtlessness of the piece. Specifying every fault would be interminable. What’s wrong is expressed by the notion that pervades every sentence: there’s a good new modern revolutionary systems esthetic way to make art and it is beating the dickens out of the bad old outmoded establishment formalist way to make art. Whatever art has got that human beings want can only be obscured by this semi-literate nonsense.

There are a few things about art that art writers ought to learn.

New methods are not better than old methods. New materials and forms are not better than old materials and forms. “New Esthetics” are not better than “Old Esthetics.” New art is not better than old art. Newness is a fact, not a virtue.

Nothing available to art is better than something else available to art. Nothing going into art is automatically, intrinsically, good or bad. Nothing existing prior to the making of art can guarantee the quality of the art it enters. The use of something unusual for art is just fine. The use of old-fashioned or traditional things is just fine. The use of anything for art is just fine. Materials and forms and methods and ideas are not better or worse, they are just different.

No preferable ingredient for art exists until an artist prefers it for his own art. The artist chooses what he thinks is best for his art. When he is through he has good art, bad art, or middling art. Art quality is provided by artists making art, not by externally specifiable things, processes, ideas, forms, agreements, methods, materials, connections or “esthetics.” There is no way art should be. It is what artists make it, and you either like it or not. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it always will be.

Until art writers give in to this, art will continue to smother in this kind of execrable verbal smog.

—Darby Bannard
Princeton, N.J.

Twentieth century technology certainly does have its fetishes with refined materials and I find Robert Smithson’s interests in Mother Earth a relevant obsession with fertility (September 1968). Dirt is nevertheless an object and when Smithson displays it to us it may as well be paint, marble, or pure gold insofar as they can not all be the same thing. His particular displays called non-sites are definitely framed areas wherein he could pat his earth into sand castles or do as he does (and as did Hans Arp in Zurich before 1920), that is, to dump the stuff in. Either way or any way of course does not specify all ways.

His article states clearly enough that art in general makes the tragic, naive and erroneous attempt to build things together when in fact they are falling apart. He suggests that art perhaps should come around and accept this entropic reality as an inherent virtue. If this were the case, Smithson implies, art would then be liberated and consequently also be free to perform future investigations into the subtleties of entropy. Frankly I would think that these investigations would be at least hypocritical in essence, basically because to investigate is to construct. His art would then be as art has always been; the only thing new would be the subject, now being an entropy rather than an abstraction, a nude, or a landscape. If Mr. Smithson’s Entropic Reality attempted to exist without investigation, isolation, or systems studies in general, there of course would be no art involved.

—Albert Fisher
San Francisco, Calif.

In Palmer French’s macroscopic review of the de Young Museum’s Art Nouveau Exhibition (May, 1968), Hector Guimard was mistakenly identified as “Henri.”

—F. Lanier Graham, Associate Curator
Museum of Modern Art
New York, N.Y.

The Sediment-alist of the Earth’s Serendipity ( Smithson, September, 1968):

mangy dolt! give up your
brushes and fissure your mind!
scum, throw away your technology
and rust your bones!
sadist! release nature and the vile
laws of culture!
shrink your mental mud, man!
and leak your brains!
die dog! but we don’t want your
lousy bones giving anthropomorphic
overtones to our graves!
Entropic Demiurge!
build an earth mound! piss on it!
dry and wet, man! dry and wet!

—Leon Golub
New York

I. Re: Magic Theatre (Sept., 1968).
1. Condolences to Miss Livingston for the time and effort she must spend in a useless and superfluous profession.
2. Along with giving a great deal of misinformation in regard to my “Sonic Room,” her judgments are meaningless, except to reveal much of herself.
3. You’re up-tight, baby.

II. Re: “Light: Object and Image” (Sept., 1968).
1. The suggestion that “Time Columns: The Sound of Light” could be a backdrop for Cyd Charisse is a revelation to me. Thank you.
2. I would much prefer to have Miss Charisse dance in front of my piece than to have a genuine art critic stand there making judgments on whether it is Art.
3. The mini-direction, micro-vision of Artforum is monotonous—but boring; a house organ for a concept.

—Howard Jones
St. Louis, Mo.

There is a very important consideration that Terry Fenton has not acknowledged in his article “Looking at Canadian Art” (September, 1968), and that is that all art being produced in the United States is seriously compromised by the fact that it is American. Consequently any article that uses current American art as a criterion for quality is of doubtful value.

—Greg Curnoe
London, Canada

By putting Canadian art through the Greenberg test of excellence Terry Fenton (September, 1968) finds most of it can be categorized as “sensibility art.” If he were not a Canadian hooked on New York and one line of interpretation, and afraid of developing “country-cousin suspiciousness or city slickerism,” he might allow himself more conceptual and thereby more visual freedom and realize that Canada shows signs of developing a valid alternative to the New York system. An alternative all the more interesting because that system is so insidious.

—Charlotte Townsend
North Vancouver, B.C.

I wish to correct an error on pages 34–35 of jack Burnham’s article Systems Esthetics (September, 1968). An extended quote relating to Dan Flavin’s use of a modular system in his Pink and Gold exhibition, at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art was incorrectly attributed to Mr. Flavin, the presumed author of the introductory text of the catalog. Actually, the author was myself, not Mr. Flavin.

—Dan Graham
New York, N.Y.