Fashion Poetics #4: What's B.S. About This?

What is up with this chart? Silliman posted it and it seems to be exactly what I'm trying to talk in my recent posts. At times, too, it seems like this is exactly what Ron wants to do: take poets and cut lines through the middle and label each cross-section as he sees fit. This chart is an attempt to justify what different artists are trying to do. Nevermind that you can place yourself on a line, you simply can't be in multiple boxes at one time, yet I hardly can think of anyone who fits neatly into a Formalist, Classicist, Animast, or Iconoclast camp. Where's the School of Quietude, I wonder?

I think an article like this does a very bad job of portraying art to the public. It essentially attempts to limit and "rein in" the poetry/arts counterpublic which is seen as unruly and something which must be defined in order to be "understood" and for people to "get it." But we live in such a culture now that everything must have a list and everything must be defined for mass consumption.

For example, last week, Pop Crunch listed the 50 hottest women of the 2008 Olympics. Rather than saying "these women are world-class atheletes who have worked their entire lives to be defined by their skill are being objectified and defined by their looks. And of course, looks are completely subjective, just like art and artists. The comment fields are strewn with "well, what about _____?" Of course they are.

And what's with these definitions? They are as follows:

• Animists are the first artists, the shamen dancing around the tribal fire who drag raw emotion from their soul and give it to the audience. They are the instinctual artists, concerned above all with content. (Jeff Smith and Jack Kirby would both fall easily under this heading.)

• Classicists worship at the altar of beauty, and yearn to create art that achieves greatness. They believe in objective standards of good and bad, and establish the canon of great artists who embody those ideals. (Neil Gaiman and Frank Cho.)

• Iconoclasts are either the first against the wall when the revolution comes, or at the front leading the charge. They use art as a means of personal and political expression, and when asked will say that they value truth over all else. (See Robert Crumb and Alan Moore.)

• Formalists love talking about art almost as much as they enjoy creating it. They are the experimenters of any given art, obsessing about details of style and technique in their own work and the work of others. (McCloud himself, and Chris Ware.)

I'm glad the eight people that Walter chose for this seem to fit so neatly into the definitions based on McCloud. What if some days you feel like all of these things or none of these things or varying rates of these things? Why must all things fit into this space? How can all things fit into this space?

They don't. The article is just another attempt by those who feel that the measure of a book is the NYT Bestseller list to simplify art for the sake of making sure it sells. Sales, after all, are the only way to define "good."

Whatever that means.

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