PRINT October 1986


TOURISM IS A MONUMENT’S best preservative. In 1722, Jonathan Richardson reported to the London public that for ten hours he had lingered in the Florentine Tribuna, unable to take his eyes off the Venus de’ Medici. Decades later, British tourists still felt obliged to let the statue overwhelm their sensibilities. In his travel journal the historian Edward Gibbon said this Venus belongs “among the small number of objects able to surpass one’s most fervent hopes. From the cradle I had heard tell of the Venus de’ Medici; books, conversation, prints and models have put it before my eyes a thousand times, yet I had no idea of it.” The statue, wrote Gibbon, provided ”the most voluptuous sensation my eye had ever felt—the softest, most elegant contours; a full, sweet roundness; the softness of flesh communicated to marble, as well as the firmness one desires.” Nearly a century after the Venus de’ Medici mesmerized Richardson, George Gordon Lord Byron reported in canto four of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1819) that the “Beauty” of the statue left him “Dazzled and drunk . . . Chained to the chariot of triumphal Art.” Remarking further on ”the graceful bend, and the voluptuous swell“ of this marble figure, Byron recalled the phrases of endless other tourists, including Gibbon’s talk of ”elegant contours.” Then, having shown his mastery of grand tour babble, Byron sneered at that sort of language: “the paltry jargon of the marble mart.” In his day as in ours, the tourist’s loftiest praise often sounded like the patter of art dealers hoping to move their merchandise. Unable to find a language untainted by commerce, Byron decided to say no more about the Venus de’ Medici. He would invite the statue’s ”Image" to reside undisturbed in dreamlike memory. Unlike tourists, certain travelers take pride in their inability to describe what they see.

A year after Byron published Childe Harold, the Venus de Milo turned up on the island of Melos. On display at the Louvre, it soon became the tourist’s favorite Venus—and eventually the cartoonist’s as well. Though eclipsed by this new attraction, the Venus de’ Medici never entirely disappeared from the standard itineraries. Last July, Vogue used its image to illustrate a touristic romp through the evidence of a new trend in attitudes toward breasts. “It seems to me lately,” wrote Holly Brubach, ”that breasts are getting larger.” She meant that fashionable women as defined by Vogue no longer struggle so hard to resemble anorexics. An overbearing tourist might announce that X or Y is the place to be this season. The fashion scout announces not the place but the way to be—or to appear. Not only may full breasts be noted now, it is possible to approve of them.

Fashion is a tourist’s journey through the possibilities for devising a public self. Tourism, in its turn, is a succession of fashions. Who goes to the Costa del Sol anymore? Well, many do, often in the forlorn hope that all the tourists are out of sight on the more fashionable Costa Brava. To be fashionable is to like the right thing, as promulgated by the authority one feels obliged to respect. Such authorities and their spheres of influence are various. Some of us accept Vogue’s word about the shape of bodies or the size of shoulder pads. Others take seriously the art tips purveyed by the media-world tour guides of Time and Newsweek. I have to admit that Martha Quinn’s comments on new music exert a certain influence on the way I view the latest videos on MTV. Since no one is utterly untouched by fashion, everyone knows that to be fashionable is to live under an urgent, even self-righteous compulsion to accept the new, as well as those remnants of the past that provide the new with its foundation. Gibbon felt more than ready to like the Venus de’ Medici. Having adjusted his taste to the current standard, he arrived in Florence determined to fall in love with the statue. Fashionable raving easily slips into fashionable sneering. Tourism’s testimony that the Costa del Sol or Paris or New York is dreadful or unbearable counts less as an attack on unfashionable targets, more as a sign of a willingness to accept some authority’s instructions. So we can dismiss negative comment as trendiness with a sharp edge, unless it sounds like the isolated demurral of a singular voice. Then we may have to take it seriously.

In 1766, the novelist Tobias Smollett said that to his eye “there is no beauty in the features of the Venus de’ Medici; and. . .the attitude is awkward and out of character.” Literary travelers like Smollett were expected to reinforce the opinions that British lovers of the antique, like Gibbon, had learned from their cradles. When Smollett panned the Venus de’ Medici, those readers who prided themselves on their propriety of taste felt betrayed. Something like their outrage might be felt today by Jasper Johns’ fans if some figure they relied upon to certify their enthusiasms announced that he or she had been rethinking things and come to the conclusion that Johns isn’t such a central figure after all. Smollett gave good reasons for slighting the Venus de’ Medici, so I believe he was playing no antifashion, secretly fashionable games. His confrontation with the statue suggests a quick way to distinguish tourists from travelers: a tourist submits to the authorities governing proper taste and received opinion of all sorts; a traveler does not. Having read Smollett, Samuel Johnson remarked on ”a strange turn in travellers to be displeased.” Two centuries later, that turn has lost its strangeness. We expect those who venture beyond the borders of their own country to come back with at least a few negative remarks. Still, facile dismissals—“The Costa del Sol? You must be kidding"—do not transform a tourist into a traveler. To count as a traveler, you must be capable of deep loathing.

Smollett disliked one ancient Greek statue. Robert Byron despised them all. In The Station (1928), he fumed at the money being spent in Athens to “unearth yet another shoal of these inert stone bodies which already debar persons of artistic sensibility from entering half the museums in Europe.” Byron tried to tip classicism off the pedestal it occupies at the center of Western tradition. Where Athens had stood, we were now to see Byzantium. Since he never made it precisely clear why he felt such an antipathy to classical culture, one must read Byron’s tirades in the speculative manner usually reserved for poetry and the novel. As I understand him, he disliked the empirical accuracy of ancient Greek art, and detested the ”Italianate materialism" of the Renaissance. They defeated his yearning for a transcendent spirituality; moreover, the shallowness of spirit they implied sent a chill through his flesh. Byron saw classical statuary as cold and dead—not that he claimed to feel physical warmth radiating from the frescoes and mosaics of the Eastern Empire. Yet their spirituality more than consoled him for their indifference to the body’s earthly life. Since the Renaissance, fashion has followed the preponderance of learned opinion in preferring classicism and its revivals to Byzantine art. Long before our century, that preference had grown stale. Though Byron’s book offered a valuable challenge to received opinion, it didn’t change the historical terrain. His antagonisms drove him deep into the landscape and archives of the eastern Mediterranean, yet The Station never established itself as an authoritative work of history. Those same antagonisms give it brilliance as a travel book.

A traveler is someone in particular. Think of the crowds ambling after docents in European museums or climbing on and off the buses parked along Manhattan’s West Broadway To feel part of a herd like that one must decide, for the moment, not to be anyone in particular. As one’s own opinions become weightless and easily shed, the tour guide’s patter grows easier to absorb. I know Long before I became an art critic I now and then found myself on guided tours of chateaux, or on rubble-strewn sites of antiquity listening to the usual mixture of fact and routine opinion—"This is among the most charming and unusual mantelpieces of the 17th century,” and so on. One admires as instructed. Or, as the tedium builds, one balks, becoming not a traveler but a sullen tourist. It troubles me to see so many of those on West Broadway.

Travelers like Smollett and Robert Byron get a good deal of fun out of their pet peeves. Yet loathing, no matter how comically expressed, hides fear. Travelers stray beyond the standard itineraries of tourism for one of two reasons: to engage with whatever frightens them, or to flee it. Labeling the “stone bodies” of ancient statues “inert,” Robert Byron implied that classical art threatened him with some variety of stasis, possibly sexual. The threat from statuary can only be symbolic, so it would remain elusive even if Byron spelled it out. He never did. But he always counted as a traveler, not a tourist, because at every turn some danger—not necessarily physical—lured him on or chased him away.

Over a quarter of a century ago, in his essay “The Frailty of Lemuel Gulliver” the scholar Paul Fussell, Jr., pointed to something peculiar about Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: among other things, the book is a catalogue of physical injuries suffered by Gulliver. Lilliputians sting him with their arrows; Brobdingnagians drop him from terrifying heights; his first handshake from a Houyhnhnm nearly crushes his fingers. Three or four pages into the book, Gulliver wakes up from a near drowning to find himself on shore, bound by Lilliputian cables. Before he can move his head, he must yank his hair free, giving himself “excessive Pain.” From then on, Gulliver undertakes his explorations in a state of apprehension. By arranging frequent assaults on his hero, Swift gives Gulliver’s fears their plausibility; and those fears make his refusal to stay safe at home look all the more admirable. Ever since ancient times, Westerners have routinely thought it virtuous to look past the boundaries of one’s familiar world. To travel into danger requires a greater virtue than curiosity—namely, courage. Gulliver has much of that, along with a tendency to describe his injuries in detail. Physical abuse, in Swift’s violent metaphor, is a symbol of the intellect shaken up, of banal faiths and standard assumptions forcibly turned on their heads. If getting knocked about certifies Gulliver as a traveler, then a tourist is one who avoids such knocks. Gulliver’s traveling presents him with a world of sharp edges and sudden abysses. For the tourist, the world is packaged—as in ”package tour.” Not only does tourism neatly wrap up fragments of landscape and history and duty-free electronics equipment; it also packages the tourists themselves, insulating them from physical danger and from the shocks to the mind that form the point of Gulliver’s Travels.

In a recent book called Abroad: British Literary Traveling between the Wars (1980), Fussell drew a bleak contrast between travelers and tourists today “Travel,” he says, ”is hardly possible anymore. . .and I’m afraid that a consideration of the tourism that apes it will be like a satire.” The remark has a familiar sound: don’t laments about the end of the age of travel appear in the “Travel” section of the Sunday New York Times, amid articles on the conveniences, the neat packages, of contemporary tourism? I wonder if there is something standardized, something a touch touristic, about that sort of comment. Tourism isn’t new, as the figure of Gibbon shows. The presence of tourists has never prevented the possibility of travel. I am reminded of art writers who complain about the crass 1980s: just as travel degenerates into the package tour, high culture slides down the devolutionary path from high seriousness to fashion, show biz, and hype. But all the glitz of the ’80s does not prevent the appearance of serious art. The difficulty, now as always, is in recognizing it, in separating the cultural tourists from those whose travels lead them somewhere, either as artists or as members of the audience.

People who watch birds memorize field marks—isolated details which permit them to distinguish, for example, one species of small gray bird from another, nearly identical species of small gray bird. Out there, in the regions beyond one’s national borders, the courage to feel antipathy is a somewhat reliable field mark of a traveler, but only somewhat. Tourists can also dislike what they’ve found—or been handed. The packaging of the package tour functions well but not perfectly. Listening carefully enough, one can hear in the bland recollections of tourists the screech of hatreds and fears—"We liked the restaurant in Les Halles but the people around the Beaubourg were so tacky.” And of course travelers like much of what they see. Robert Byron’s allergic reaction to classical statuary implied, even necessitated, his love of Byzantine culture. So when we try to distinguish travelers from tourists, patterns of liking and disliking do not provide us with entirely reliable field marks. As for physical threats, some travelers and tourists risk them, others don’t.

When John Lloyd Stephens traveled to the Yucatan in the 1840s, he faced fever and ague, civil unrest and the absence of reliable maps. In 1968, Robert Smithson visited the same territory, did a series of site pieces, then borrowed the title of Stephens’ book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843) for his own essay “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan” (1968). Conditions had changed. Riding in an air-conditioned Dodge Dart, Smithson couldn’t have run Stephens’ risks even if that had been the point. He was as safe as any tourist in the Yucatan, yet his attempt to entangle himself in enigmas of time and entropy broke through the package tour’s illusion in which consumerist fun is an eternal possibility He traveled to places where he could get a glimpse of death. Tourism promises an escape from this danger, whether in the world or in the imagination, yet tourists are not always safe. Bandits lurked along the eastern itinerary of the grand tour, and today terrorists endow tourism with a factor of ultimate risk. But a tourist doesn’t become a traveler the moment a contingent of Al Fatah boards the plane.

The party of tourists devises—or accepts ready made—a world in which travelers are oddities impossible to bring into focus. For its part, the party of travelers construes the world in a way that excludes tourists as significant presences. So a traveler can often make no sense of a tourist’s enthusiasms or complaints. Why, the traveler wonders, do these stragglers from the package tour object so strenuously to the absence of taxicabs in the streets of Istanbul, when such absences are precisely—but there is no point in going on with such questions or comparisons. That travel and tourism share liking and disliking, safety and danger, does not mean they share the same foundation. Travelers and tourists move through different worlds, even as their paths cross. They sometimes say the same sort of thing, but not with the same intent.

To see what I’m getting at, it might help to turn for a moment to politics. In some political situations, the parties labeled left and right can be compared because, despite their differences, both parties have something in common—a belief in the current government’s legitimacy Accepting at least the larger terms on which that government is constituted, left and right disagree chiefly about which policies and programs should animate the constitution in its day-to-day workings. Other settings show no such agreement. In extreme cases, the conflict is so great that left and right do not even use words in the same manner. Both talk of history, individual rights, the people, the future, and so on, yet their senses of these words differ so radically that they cannot be compared. Political powers opposed to that degree have difficulty coming to grips with each other. When powers share nothing or little, each construes the world in its own way Each can acknowledge the other only as an embodiment of wrongness, an anomaly to be eradicated.

In The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88), Gibbon helped define the later 18th century’s notions of high style in English prose. For his travel journal, he slipped out of English, into correct but pedestrian French acquired during a residence in Lausanne. As Gibbon the historian, he had a recognizable tone of voice. Gibbon the tourist did not. I believe he assumed the middling style and run-of-the-mill perceptions of his touring notes for a clear—if not conscious—purpose: to abandon his usual intellectually strenuous self for the luxury of five months in the role of a familiar stereotype. On the grand tour, Gibbon looked where authority’s finger pointed, and responded in unison with the other tourists. He resembled what we now call a consumer.

So did many who embarked from England on the grand tour, though the resemblance was never perfect. In 1794, J. B. S. Morritt, then 22 years old, left his family’s house in Yorkshire on a journey that lasted more than two years. Excluded from France by revolutionary turbulence, Morritt and his friend Robert Stockdale visited Turkey and Greece by way of Germany, Austria, and Hungary, returning to England after a long stay in Italy. Dangers were many. Traveling by sea in the 1790s, British citizens had to keep an eye out for the patrols the French maintained in the eastern Mediterranean. By land there were bandits. Morritt qualifies as a traveler, yet the letters he wrote to his family show consumerist impulses visible in every one of us who has ever fallen into the tourist’s role.

Morritt liked to gather objects along the route—ancient medals, statues and fragments of statues, the remains of classical architecture. He was not an accumulator on the scale of the Earl of Elgin, who required a decade, 1802–1812, to ship to London all the bits of the Parthenon he had laid his hands on. But next to the knickknacks contemporary vacationers stuff into carry-on bags, Morritt’s trophies look colossal. Collecting done on the grand tour bears only an ancestral relationship to modern consumerism. Morritt begins to look more like a contemporary tourist when he writes from Vienna that "we have been inquiring after a draughtsman, and I hope we have heard of one that will suit us.” They had, and soon Morritt’s party was supplied with an 18th-century equivalent of a camera.

Never named in Morritt’s letters (published last year under the title A Grand Tour), this Viennese citizen occupied the place of a higher servant—or a particularly clever piece of equipment. “At Deva,” Morritt reports from Transylvania, “is a fine old castle of the Emperor’s of which I have a drawing by our draughtsman, as of several other scenes of our journey.” Later: ”You have no doubt read a great deal about the situation of Constantinople, and know the raptures in which it is usually described. I employ my draughtsman all day in taking views of it.” (Italics mine, for even if they take no palpable objects from the places they visit, tourists take views or, as Morritt sometimes says, pictures.) All this taking sounds active. It was active in the case of Elgin or of the British collector Morritt met who had accumulated four thousand ancient coins and medals. But as modernity elaborated itself and mass markets appeared, tourism began to display the automatic reflexes of consumerism. The souvenirs of our jaunts are frail parodies of the torsos and urns brought back from the grand tour. What counts most for us—and, I believe, even for 18th-century tourists like Morritt—is the passive registration of standard views. Objects gathered abroad form a kind of evidence, but the evidence presented by a tourist’s pictures is more manipulable, more easily adjusted to the preconceptions with which one set out. A Nikon in Venice can replicate the conventions of the travel poster at every turn. As for Morritt’s draughtsman, he was found satisfactory, and that means he knew how to adjust what he saw to the demands of “composition”—a set of visual devices catalogued for British tourists in the writings and watercolor sketches of William Gilpin, that early formulator of the picturesque to whose authority Morritt appeals now and then.

Our preconceptions about nicely composed pictures of ruined castles, charming country lanes, and sunsets over gently rippling lakes haven’t changed much during the past two hundred and fifty years, which is only to say that the visual reflexes of the tourist were in working order at the outset of modernity Playing the tourist’s passive role, we impoverish ourselves and our world, so why do we do it? Because the routines of tourism put us under the guidance of a stable authority, and stable authority is what modern life so often refuses to provide. To see a landscape or a village as a series of properly composed views is to accept comfort from the order enforced by the institutions that define proper taste and offer to organize our leisure. Those institutions include Michelin guides at one extreme and, at the other, the art world imperative to track down the next hot new neo. Such authorities encourage us to embrace the fallacy of the single track, which not only lays down paths we are to follow but requires us to find bizarre the thought of any deviation.

Traveling and tourism propose incompatible ways of seeing the Amazon or the Louvre, but there’s more to it than that. The two propose mutually exclusive ways of being. Impelled by an itinerary, the tourist finds sufficient time only to register the match between anticipation and actuality Often the match is pretty close (“The Piazza San Marco really is an amazingly romantic place!”); ever since Gibbon’s time, tourists’ expectations have been well prepared. Though travelers have the same expectations (who can evade our culture’s formulas?), to travel is to spoil the itinerary, and to let it be remade by digressions of the kind we all find irresistible whenever we begin to see past our preconceptions to a world filled with unexpected and often peculiar things.

Little birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
”Thanks!" they cry. “ ’Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”
—Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, 1893.

If Carroll’s poem were about travelers, not tourists, bagpipes on the shore would be an odd departure from the rule that bagpipes belong in the Highlands. Flagrant exceptions like that help travelers focus on what is extraordinary even in the mundane. Since the poem is about tourists, the bagpipes are neither odd nor otherwise. They are a tourist attraction, an especially empty kind of artifice worked up to conform to the expectations tourists bring with them wherever they go. In this case the artifice didn’t work—“Let us have no more!” But some other one will do nicely, perhaps kilts on tour guides. Tourism generalizes, so tourists only feel they’ve seen the world when they’ve matched it to models provided by the authority directing their steps. Often a guidebook, that authority could be a set of prejudices (“People don’t really go to Guadalajara anymore”). The traveler’s authority is internal, or, as it’s nonsense to imagine that anyone is entirely autonomous, the traveler’s degree of independence could be compared to that of an artist unencumbered by trends. Tourists want to step into a vision already devised. Travelers travel to devise a vision of the world for themselves.

André Gide had to stay active simply to remain alive during his Congo journey of 1925–26. Nearly every day he was called upon to make crucial decisions about food, medicine, and route. As Gide’s party traveled north into Islam, he found himself enmeshed in cross-cultural diplomacy of the most delicate kind. In many instances, a tourist’s preconceptions could have been deadly. Gide made his long journey to dispel preconceptions of a different kind—the rigid patterns of bureaucratic thought and racial prejudice that made French colonial rule in the 1920s almost as oppressive as the regime Joseph Conrad encountered in the Belgian congo of 1890. Gide’s report to the colonial ministry in Paris is thought, by some commentators, to have alleviated certain of the French colonialists’ worst abuses. His diary also led to Travels in the Congo, a personal record of sheer physical determination and tireless empathy that provides an extrovert’s gloss on the inward abyss of Conrad’s Congo. Having traveled so far off the edge of the world charted by the guidebooks of their day, figures like Gide and Conrad throw little light on the difference between traveler and tourist, between visionary and not: Murkier cases are more helpful here—David Hockney, for example. Do his photographs show us the clichés of a tourist or the singular views of a traveler? The question can be rephrased: is Hockney an illustrator or an artist?

For My Mother, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, Nov ’82, Hockney arranged roughly four dozen photographic prints in an immense collage. Staving off the Yorkshire damps with a heavy overcoat, the artist’s mother sits on a fragment of the ruined abbey In the background stand two rows of bare Gothic arches. A quick glance sees only an archetypal instance of the tourist’s souvenir—a travel poster personalized by the presence of a near relative. A closer look reveals Hockney’s finesse. With its irregular outline, the piece sends an elaborate tracery of compositional forces over the photographic surface. Following those visual cues, the eye uncovers an intricate unity binding foreground to background and architecture to the human form. Here as elsewhere, Hockney’s confident mastery of composition seems almost to parody the picturesque ideal of disparate elements in unified harmony. He is too self-conscious to play, purely and simply, the role of the tourist with a camera; nonetheless, he plays that role, with motives that are anything but simple.

Before he began to assemble separate images in multiprint collages, Hockney intended each of his photos to stand on its own. Since he travels often and takes pictures wherever he goes, he got into the habit of referring to these single prints as “holiday snaps.” For some viewers, that tag says it all: Hockney is an amateur photographer. This judgment recognizes no self-consciousness, no irony in Hockney’s talk of ”holiday snaps“ You could easily overlook that irony because Hockney has been so willing over the past decade and a half to point his camera at things like swimming pools, deck chairs, and palm trees. These ”holiday snaps" show us a tourist’s world, the kind that travel agents like to put together for clients with a few ideas about stylishness. Of course Hockney needs no guidance in these matters. He has a reliable nose for Art Deco in the American Southwest, for the geometries of European gardens, for hotels that serve tea on attractive silver. When Hockney takes a picture, he consumes a fragment of elegance. I don’t think anyone should be violently censured for writing him off as a photographer who illustrates an ideal of tasteful tourism. Yet he rearranges before he consumes. Sometimes his arrangements qualify him as a traveler.

Tourism shapes its world from the deep vistas and dramatic angles of travel-poster photography the flashy picturesque that has come to signify leisure amid exoticism. Certain of Hockney’s “holiday snaps” present a world with a different feel. In place of swooping compositional movement, he sometimes puts a right-angled geometry The eye slows down and stops, caught and held by an image built from static echoes of the straight edges and 90-degree corners that enclose the image. There’s a hush here, the quiet that follows the breaking of a taboo. Pushing form toward symmetry, Hockney finds a visual emblem for a secret usually well hidden: tourism is only superficially lively; beneath its rapid succession of sights and sounds lies a principle of order designed to block any genuine surprises. The artificial excitement of travel-poster baroque, with its shifting scale and stagy perspectives, reinforces the illusions that animate tourism’s surface—and so do some of Hockney’s multiprint collages. But the most rigidly geometric of his “snaps” disperse those illusions with visual stasis, a sign for the inertia that holds tourism to its single track. With symmetries that bring out the compulsive order tourism imposes on its world, Hockney betrays that world, which likes to present itself to consumers as loose and liberating. Neither packaged nor a packager, he points to the symmetries enforced by packaging but usually obscured by tourism’s hubbub, the persistently changing scenery. Adrift in the realm of tourism, Hockney revises it. No one else does that, so Hockney’s vision is singular. That makes him an artist, not an illustrator.

A familiar Hockney photograph from 1975–76 sets a palm tree along the vertical axis of the print. Dividing the backdrop into sky blue and ocean blue, the horizon does not coincide exactly with the print’s horizontal axis (that would be too rigid), but runs parallel to it. It looks to me as though Hockney has given these travel-poster motifs the task of reworking the symmetries of Minimalists like Robert Morris and Carl Andre. Moreover, the colors of this “holiday snap” come close to some of Donald Judd’s industrial pastels. In another of Hockney’s prints from this period, tree trunks crisscrossing the shadows of neatly clipped foliage recall the ’60s grid. Hockney lauds—or does he mock?—the look of Minimalist inertia.

Andre, Judd, and other Minimalists preferred to see geometric basics out in the open. In 1964, Judd said, “My things are symmetrical because . . . I wanted to get rid of any compositional effects, and the obvious way to do it is to be symmetrical.” Asked why he wanted to get rid of compositional effects, he said they "tend to carry with them all the structures, values, feelings of the whole European tradition. It suits me fine if that’s all down the drain.” For Judd, composition’s repertory of visual checks and balances simply clutters up the path to the essence of form. As he and the other Minimalists saw it, Paul Cézanne, and then the Cubists, began to clear away the debris. Piet Mondrian and the geometric abstractionists went farther. But, in Minimalism’s view of art history, the European avant-gardists could never go far enough, because, trapped by the superficial play of composition, they let themselves be whirled around on the shifting surface of style. The Minimalists defined their mission as a breakthrough to basics. The first step: liberate art from stylistic change for the sake of change; next, work beneath the surface to absolutes, the abiding geometries I call emblems of stasis.

I’m not suggesting we group Hockney’s “holiday snaps” with the works of hardcore Minimalists. I’m only pointing to resemblances that need to be sorted out. On one hand is the rigidity of tourism unveiled by the geometries of Hockney’s travel pictures; on the other are rigid Minimalist patterns of straight line and right angle—anticompositions that left an imprint on those pictures of Hockney’s. But what else do tourism and Minimalism have to do with each other? Look for a moment at the consequence of construing the avant-garde as a long episode of art-historical tourism: stylistic evolution becomes a picturesque of innovation, with each style more or less equivalent to every other; the high-speed development that transformed Cézanne into Mondrian takes on the air of an empty exercise, a flurry of frantic motion leading nowhere. Seen that way, Modernism required the corrective of Minimalist stasis: if the surface of art is a shimmering emptiness, then by all means let’s go to whatever unchanging foundation persists in the depths. Who could quarrel with art that shows us how to thwart the impulse to change styles for the sake of change? Even if we note that the Minimalists themselves developed signature styles, we might nonetheless want to admire them for putting style on notice, for demanding that it strive fora permanence beyond the reach of avant-garde fashion. But there’s a catch.

Minimalist art was not an alternative to the consumerist principle of change for change’s sake. Far from it. In place of avant-garde innovation it put supposedly eternal form, a substitution that locked Minimalism into a permanent critique of stylistic tourism. For that critique to make any sense, the Minimalists had to accept tourism’s pattern of a lively surface hiding static depths; they had to project that pattern onto the history of Modernism, and then select themselves as the artists who would break through the superficial whirl of stylistic change and take charge of the underlying stasis. Of course they claimed that their breakthrough led them not to stasis but to absolutes, which they embodied with symmetry, repetition, and simple, right-angled geometry—in other words, with formal traits of the most stubbornly static kind. Obsessively opposed to stylistic tourism, the Minimalists could only invert it, not defeat it. They traded in the allure of the new for the allure of supposedly timeless absolutes. Getting to those essentials looks like an admirable procedure until you realize that only an artist who sees style as mere packaging can believe that it hides some absolute form waiting to be unwrapped. Such a belief is possible only for those in whose eyes all stylistic change is illusion, a dazzling distraction—which it obviously isn’t.

The effects of Minimalism’s decision to specialize in the inert have had a long afterlife. Unveiling stasis, the Minimalists gave it an aura of difficult truth, which evolved into a sullen glamour. Softened, rendered coy by an overlay of ornamentation, that glamour reappears in the architecture of Michael Graves. His designs owe to Minimalism whatever weight they possess. A compulsive tourist, Graves has brought back souvenirs from who-knows-how-many historical periods. A quick list includes Art Deco, so-called Cubist neo-Palladianism, neo-classicism, Beaux-Arts classicism, and of course International Style Modernism. Graves knows how to leave details vague—after all, Art Deco had its own brand of packaged classicism. He doesn’t insist that you think of the Parthenon if you don’t want to. When he calls on the dignity of Palladianism, he often blurs it with a few touches of designer Modernism. Nostalgia for the flair of a ’30s supper club qualifies the earnest exercise of paying one’s respects to ancient Greece. Arranging styles until he achieves symmetry Graves reminds me of a television writer rounding up a population for a network comedy. To balance a kid, the show needs a grandfather or grandmother, or someone like them; for the working mother, a caring domesticated husband; for a rebellious teenager, a wise and tolerant friend of the family. With each element taking the edge off another, diversity comes across as safe and simple—a blank. All power accrues to the institution of entertainment, the authority that carries out this process of erasure. Sitcom action is lively but never takes us anywhere. Instead, we get a tourism of family life.

When Graves assembles a cast of diversified ornaments for a new building, he may entertain certain fans of contemporary architecture but his work is never called entertainment. He is judged a serious architect, partly because he appears to be more learned than some of his colleagues; also because well-informed eyes sense elevated esthetic intentions in the Minimalist bluntness of Graves’ designs—the clunky inertia of his buildings’ silhouettes, his willingness to image forth the stasis underlying his historical tourism. His buildings bring the look of Minimalist geometry to an audience sizable by art-world standards but minute compared to that generated by the television program Miami Vice. In long shots, Miami Vice’s camera lines up the horizon with the horizontal axis of the screen, a tactic that splits the image into equal blocks of motionless ocean and cloudless sky. The camera places standing figures along the screen’s vertical axis. It fills the image with grid patterns found everywhere in this metallic Miami—in architecture, in the grilles of automobiles, in a drawbridge tipping up to stand parallel to the picture plane. The Miami Vice camera shows an amazing command of Minimalist rigidity. Even when it goes into motion it draws tight, dead geometries from the curves of Florida’s coasts and causeways. The effect is oppressive yet compelling. No other television show has innovated so efficiently with the screen’s simple givens—flatness, edges, and corners.

By enclosing the action of the two cop heroes, Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and his partner Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), symmetry makes a visual argument that all action is futile—you can move the pieces around but they always fall back into the same oppressive patterns. Miami Vice arranges its world of cops and drug dealers to persuade us that addiction’s underlying form—the repetitive cycle that forces addicts to scramble to get what they need so they can continue scrambling to get what they need—is the model for everything anyone does. The show provides a weekly tour of glib pessimism. In one episode last season, the doomed antiheroine tried to sell Crockett on the idea of running away with her. She crooned about beaches “whiter than this—so white they hurt your eyes. So clean. So pure. So empty.” It sounded as if a Minimalist installation had slipped away from a newspaper’s art critic and gotten reviewed in the ”Travel" section.

No matter how violent, the action of Miami Vice never pushes at the borders of the screen. The symmetries of the plot suggest that nothing can escape consumerist urges so powerful they become addictions, whether to drugs or money, to fashion or sex. Now and then Crockett has the job of telling a female lead that she’s not stuck in whatever dilemma entangles her. This is America. She can leave, try a new town, get a job. But the script depicts her as stuck, rendered immobile, more often than not by some sexual obsession. Construed by the tour guides of Miami Vice, America is a predictable place. No one is free, everyone zips through the vacation paradise of southern Florida on some disastrously fated, and therefore rigid, itinerary. When a script has run down to its entropic denouement, Crockett clenches his jaw and shakes his head slowly side to side—a standard symbol of dogged naiveté about freedom and personal integrity. Just a character immersed in the plot, he is not in a position to see the symmetries that trap the action, letting people move fast but insisting they go nowhere.

And lately the patterns underlying the plots of Miami Vice are invisible to the viewer as well as to Crockett. In the most recent round of episodes, the camera abandoned nearly all its Minimalist mannerisms. The show is still a consumerist fantasy, a travelogue of addiction, but its inertial underpinnings leave fewer marks on the frantic image surface. Now the Miami Vice camera usually tries for the banal composition you see in most television shows and movies. Since Crockett is white and Tubbs black, simple symmetry still persists; there is still the dialectic of good guys defined in crude opposition to bad guys. But the revamped Miami Vice keeps nearly all signs of stasis under wraps. Most television shows do the same, prolonging the illusion of change as long as possible, until, say, the last station break before the end, when everything reverts to pattern.

A foundation of static patterns is more clearly visible on television programs with a claim to seriousness. Take the news shows. As a sitcom requires a balanced cast, so a special devoted to the discussion of, say, arms control needs a hawk and a dove. For a cast larger than two, the producer multiplies the original pattern; if the original hawk-and-dove duo belongs to politics, add counterparts from academia and the media. Similar arrangements recur in the worlds of art and literature when organizers assemble participants for a panel discussion, articles for an anthology, or opinions for a magazine symposium. If you have a couple of artists, get a couple of critics; if the panel is to consist solely of artists, get a painter and a sculptor, an abstractionist and one who makes figures.

Patterns of balance signal touristic attitudes in some odd places, islands claiming to provide a refuge from triviality This summer’s issue of The New Criterion featured “New York in the Eighties: A Symposium.” Artists, writers, musicians, and others were invited to answer questions about ”New York’s central position in America’s cultural life“ and the possibility that the United States might possess ”thriving regional cultures.” Some respondents said New York was still central, others said it was not, and one claimed the issue was silly. “We are far from agreeing with every statement in this symposium,” wrote Editor Hilton Kramer in his introduction, ”but unanimity of opinion was not our purpose. What we set out to achieve was an informed and wide-ranging discussion of the problems which are now thought to beset us . . . and this we believe we have accomplished.” Indeed, but the symposium’s static structure indicates that Kramer wanted to accomplish much more.

Is New York still the cultural capital or not? The responses Kramer printed fall in an evenly spaced pattern between a fervent yes and a bitter no. Arlene Croce’s qualified yes is circumstantial and interesting. Other answers, pro and con, build arguments from windy phrases like “artists of the deepest culture,” “authentic culture. . .functioning as a resistance without illusions,” ”those who live the life of high culture day by day,” and so on. All of it, readable or not, serves a larger purpose, which is to arrange these diverse responses so that they undermine and finally obliterate one another. One can recall what is distinct about Croce’s answer or Larry Rivers, with its delicate autobiographical tints, but when one tries to grasp the symposium as a whole what’s left is a shapeless blank.

The questions addressed to the symposium’s correspondents are filled with talk of “leaders” and “leadership,” but Kramer’s balancing tactics allow none to emerge from the symposium. That doesn’t mean the situation lacks a leader. All authority devolves onto the guide who arranged this quick spin past the issues and attitudes—the intellectual landmarks—that come into view when we raise the question of New York’s preeminence. The tour guide, the leader, is Kramer himself. By inducing his respondents’ answers to cancel one another, he manages to stay in control.

When I compare the intellectually self-righteous consumerism of The New Criterion with Miami Vice’s frantic promotion of addictive images, I lose sight of similarities in the buzz of wildly differing styles and media. But underneath their surfaces the journal and the TV “action drama” both rest on the same set of principles. The New Criterion cannot—and I mean the word strictly—cannot acknowledge value in any work of art or literature that fails to live up to the journal’s alibi for stasis—an inert notion of “quality” This is a rigid standard, fit for nothing but measuring a work’s degree of conformity. Promising a tour of culturally significant monuments, Kramer’s notion of “quality” stands ready to generalize any particular that comes into view. Judgments of quality concern only the judge and tour guide’s image of authority, which rests on the premise that the value of every esthetic initiative is to meet a standard that is as vague as it is immobile. With an energy sustained by immense reserves of indignation, Kramer labors to confine art to a well-worn boulevard leading from approved works of the past to art that mimics those familiar monuments—or new art that, distorted by Kramer’s generalizing itinerary, has been made to look as though it engages in such mimicry. In the name of perennial values, Kramer reduces the experience of art to a matching game—here’s the pattern of quality; now let’s see if any recent work fits that pattern. He offers no speculation about meaning and ignores all resistance to the status quo save to subject it to Archie Bunker–like insult.

Miami Vice’s equivalent to the inertia underlying The New Criterion’s unchanging “quality” is consumerist glamour feverishly reinvented—new styles of clothes, architecture, rock music, vehicles, and drugs appear in every episode and cancel each other out. Dispensable glamour is what appears when we strip away quality’s pretentions to timelessness. Both are consumerist traps. We always know what to expect when we read The New Criterion, tune in to Miami Vice, or, for that matter, take a package tour to the Egyptian pyramids. One’s first sight of the pyramids offers confirmation, not surprise. That instant certifies the consonance of monuments with their reputations, just as each shot on Miami Vice molds the new and the hip to a pattern of glamour that has been around at least since the ’30s, maybe longer—think of the earlier F. Scott Fitzgerald at his most fatuous and “daring” Cocaine is in fact different from gin, but tourism renders them equivalent. In its way, Miami Vice is as stale as The New Criterion, which insists that esthetic monuments, the pyramids of art and literature, be absorbed in the categories laid out by a generalizing nostalgia. To need the glamour supplied by Miami Vice is to need the illusions of adolescence. Those who seek The New Criterion’s predictable match-ups between a standard of “quality” and a few cultural monuments require the comfort and reassurance offered by an illusion of maturity and intellectual seriousness—a barricade against the moment’s disorienting challenges.

Half a century ago, tourists found much of this reassurance with the help of the movies. “The wonderful thing about Spain is that it is so Spanish,” wrote H. W Yoxall in Vogue, during the ’30s. ”Women out of Carmen gather with shapely water jars at the village cisterns. . . . Flights of storks. . . . Herds of goats. . . They couldn’t do it better, even in Hollywood.” In the 1950s Penelope Gilliatt praised “Namur . . . a lovely city, spiritually as old as the hills.” From ”the original castle of the Counts of Namur . . . the view of the roof-tops is as model-perfect as the Thames scene at the opening of the film of Henry V.” From opera to Hollywood to the film version of a Shakespearean play—these images suggest tourism’s versatility in establishing its models. Movies of “classical” plays, tasteful adaptions of 19th-century novels, and genteel entertainments of every variety work with junk movies, travel posters, ads for “leisure products,” and the rest of the image barrage to define expectations a tourist’s itinerary can meet with ease. Tourism is a form of mass medium. And the mass media treat us as insatiable tourists, addicted to the fulfillment of expectations we had little part in forming.

As Yoxall’s Spain seemed wonderful because it fit so neatly the image of everything Spanish, so the theories of postmodernism seem significant because they match standard expectations about the look and sound of significant theory. Quotations from highly visible radicals of earlier periods; borrowings from the language and concepts of these landmark figures; flat claims that one’s reformulations constitute an advance in radical tradition—postmodernist theory features all this and more. Yoxall’s Spain is wonderful only in the eyes of tourists on the lookout for a match between the conventions of the picturesque and whatever landscape is at hand. American theorists of postmodernism have devised a similar picturesque—this one a tour of radicality, a set of conventions for tagging writers and artists as advanced or regressive. In November 1985, in Arts, the critic David Carrier pointed out some consequences of appealing to radical ideas without letting them go to work. Asking us to “consider [Hal] Foster’s account of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer,” he gives Foster’s essay a close reading that shows how a radical picturesque works at ground level: the tour guide begins with forms borrowed from an authority, then carries on by fitting them over the terrain in need of being packaged. In this case Roland Barthes came in handy.

The reader may have guessed that I prefer Miami Vice to The New Criterion or theories of the postmodern. But that doesn’t mean I’m a total fan. Like tourism in all its forms, Miami Vice promises to take us somewhere and leads us right back where we started when we switched it on: empty and hungry. The viewer is left with no idea of him- or herself, only the feeling of having obeyed a consumerist imperative. But if it’s so awful, why do I dwell on it this way? If I hate it so much, shouldn’t I get on with something else? An answer is not easy for me to formulate, though the beginnings of one lurk in part two of John Ashbery’s poem “The Skaters” (1964), where Ashbery writes about the moment the "train arrives in the station.”

A bewhiskered student in an old baggy overcoat is waiting to take it. “Why do you want to go there,” they all say “It is better in the other direction.”
And so it is. The people there are free, at any rate. But where you are going no one is.
Still there are parks and libraries to be visited, ”la Bibliothèque Municipale,”
Hotel reservations . . .

Ashbery’s narrator drifts through a world of “Old American films dubbed into the foreign language . . . And rain on the bristly wool of your topcoat.” Realizing he “never knew why I wanted to come he nonetheless insists he will ”never return to the past, that attic The speaker is making a sideways approach to a vague possibility of seeing the light about some matter of importance, possibly the reason he chose to go in the direction where people are not free. I find this a matter of particular interest. Tourism has taken me far from travelers like Gulliver, Robert Byron, and Smithson, into zones of the culture where people sacrifice the specific to the dictates of fashion, theory, ideology—static patterns of thought and feeling that confine experience to strict, impersonal itineraries. Tourists abandon freedom by abandoning their claims on selfhood. But if tourism is a spacious prison, why not simply get out in the direction of freedom?

Freedom is not a place on a map, conceptual or topographical. It is a way of being, of moving through the cultural terrain. Imprisoned by the tunderlying stasis of tourism, we seem to be in motion but are not. To travel, one must know about that stasis and how not to be caught by it. So freedom, as I conceive it, is not an abstract ideal or a general possibility—the flipside of unfreedom. It is a state of self-consciousness, hence a response to the sells particular circumstances. Freedom is the state we can begin to enter after going in, and deliberately returning from, the direction where stasis ensures that people are not free. (To be continued.)

Carter Ratclif is a writer who lives in New York. He contributes regularly to Artforum.

This essay on two opposed ways of seeing—the traveler’s and the tourist’s—will continue in a forthcoming issue. The next installment will trace the itineraries of Modern and contemporary artists and writers who have traveled beyond stereotyped vistas to uncharted regions.