MSB brainstorming

21 April 2018

Dr Great Art Episode 34, Artistic Agon: Eshu not Oedipus

Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 34: Artistic Agon, Eshu not Oedipus. Artists are directly responsible for fashioning their own tropes through the processes of extension, elaboration, composition and/or questioning. They must wrestle with their precursors, who inspired them to be creators in the first place, to do this. Such dialectical struggle, called an 'agon,' is more than simply oedipal. The African spirit Eshu, the trickster, patron saint of crossroads, and Jacob, who struggled with God in the Bible, make better metaphoric models than Oedipus.
#arthistory #agon #haroldbloom #Eshu

Script for Podcast

Dr Great Art Podcast 34

Artistic Agon: Eshu not Oedipus

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 34th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.

After a few more-or-less purely historical podcasts, here is a theoretical, philosophical and critical one. My artecdote this time concerns the way artists need to envision their struggle to become themselves artistically. This struggle, theorist Harold Bloom calls our Agon.

"Mongrel Art" is my term for an inherently impure, syncretistic form of art. For more about that, listen to past episode Number 20. Behind such art is a mongrel philosophical approach: Intercultural, not globalized; call-and-response, not Oedipal.

Cognitive metaphor theory proffers a mode of thinking which can be applied to the analysis and creation of art, while accentuating the efforts of the makers of these objects. After the object-only orientation of Formalism, after the medium-only focus of Deconstruction, this may lead to a feeling of liberation, of agency. Nevertheless, this is a theory which may be seen to bring with it a new sense of the burden of the past. Whereas the Formalist Modernists felt free from the past and the Deconstructivist Postmodernists are endlessly tangled in an inescapable present, authors and artists as viewed through cognitive metaphor theory are directly responsible for fashioning their own tropes through the processes of extension, elaboration, composition and/or questioning.

This they accomplish in and through the formal parameters of their work, with enough cultural coherence to be able to communicate, but enough originality to be significant. Important tropes cannot merely be selected from a list; they are discovered and built out of revisions of cultural possibilities, in fact, fought for and won. Thus Harold Bloom's theory of antithetical revisionism also contributes an important component to my ideas, as he writes:

But again, why should someone crossing out of literary criticism address the problematics of revisionism? What else has Western poetry been, since the Greeks, must be the answer, at least in part. The origins and aims of poetry together constitute its powers, and the powers of poetry, however they relate to or affect the world, rise out of a loving conflict with previous poetry, rather than out of conflict with the world. ... This particularly creative aspect of a kind of primal anxiety is the tendency or process I have called "poetic misprision" and have attempted to portray in a number of earlier books. --- Harold Bloom

The heart of Bloom's theory of misprision is the concept of an indispensable, antithetical agon of each "poet," as he calls us. With poetry being the chief artistic discipline for Bloom, the word poet may also be replaced here with artist, for our purposes. Revisionism is exalted to the central fact of artistic creativity. Agon is Bloom's term for the conflict arising from the anxiety of influence. Each and every author must wrestle with his or her precursors, the ones who inspired them to be creators in the first place.
In amendment of Bloom, though, this "loving conflict" also transpires with the world, as it involves tropes of bodily experience as outlined in Lakoffian theory. Creators seeking individual ways to convey their experiences within their media, are necessarily forced to fence with comparable expressions of similar experiences by their predecessors, therefore primarily with their predecessors' tropes. Cognitive metaphor theory offers an important basis for the study of art and literature, in particular their formation. Bloomian agonistic misprision completes the portrayal of the process by which creators arrive at the cognitive tropes so described.

My theory of central trope is postmodern; I would hope even post-postmodern. It is a model unfolding the construction by authors and artists of distinctive central tropes in the tangible forms and processes of their media. They achieve this by means of an agonistic struggle with predecessors' tropes, doing so in order to uniquely articulate personal perceptions and experiences. Such tropes in the hands of artists are both metaphoric and meta-formal, thus yielding the punning term metaphor(m) in my title. This word describes and embodies the core of the theory. For creators, artistic value is grounded in form, the way a work is made and its technical aspects. Yet, turning Formalism on its head, these attributes in themselves are significant only due to their meta-properties as tools and modi operandi involving context, tropaic content and cultural struggle.

Although clearly inspired by Freud, Bloom can be pushed beyond the simplicity of most interpretations of Oedipal father-figure relationships. I, instead, see the possibility of a non-Oedipal interpretation or variation on Harold Bloom's antithetical revisionist theory of agon, of misprision in artistic creativity. Bloom's notion is astute and very influential on my theory of metaphor(m), but I believe an adaptation of it replacing oedipal desire with dialogical call-and-response is even more promising.

I agree with Bloom that every artist must wrestle with his or her precursors, the ones who inspired them to be artists in the first place, while also struggling against themselves and previous versions of themselves. "Strong" creators, as Bloom calls them, form new and independent spots for their creativity in a continuous conflict, which he terms agon. Bloom's thought is very oedipal: from the Oedipus complex (1910), coined by Sigmund Freud from Sophocles' play Oedipus Tyrannus, in which the title character, the Theban hero, answers the Sphinx's riddle and unknowingly kills his father and marries his own mother. Overly simplistically described, Bloom's theory contends that artists have a central rivalry with the past, with those artists who came before them.

However, I assert that such agonistic, dialectical struggle is more than simply oedipal. Art sometimes advances through homage (think of Jazz) or through wholly new pressures and skirmishes. This is particularly important today, when many of us have multiple cultures and complex relationships to tradition and anti-tradition. Artists' inherited cultures are wrestled with in complex fashions in their artworks. Creators struggle against their inheritances, yet also pay respect to them, thus using them as material in the construction of their singular identities, in the establishment of the terrain on which they are grounded and, contrarily, from which they journey.

Bloom's idea indeed can be pushed beyond the simplicity of most interpretations of Oedipal father-figure relationships. In truth, I see a clearer source than in the Greek myth of Oedipus for Bloom's thought, in Jacob's struggle with the angel (or God) as described in the Bible, not detailed in the Qur'an, but discussed by Qur'anic commentators as a walk and debate with an angel; and in the African spirit Eshu, the patron saint of crossroads, who is both young and old simultaneously and who is fond of playing tricks on people for the purpose of causing maturation. As an aside, thanks to artist and curator John Jennings for giving me the initial knowledge of Eshu!

The river Jacob crossed to have this important encounter is the Jabbok River, also now called the Zarqa River. The name Jabbok is quite rich in associations, being an aural anagram of Jacob, and meaning "to flow," "to pour out," even "a wrestling." (Jacob is an important figure for Bloom, however my suggestion is that his account of agon should be even more closely tied to the story and that of Oedipus be abandoned totally.)

Eshu is important as he embodies much of the unity of homage, development, questioning and agon present in African-American artistic expression, particularly Jazz, which inspired this insight in me. Thus, blending the traditions I mentioned, I call my version Jabbok-Eshuian agon. This odd, mongrel blending is an application of my theory structurally and offers a doorway into two rich storehouses of foundational cognitive metaphors, thus helping to further integrate the Lakoffian and Bloomian facets of the theory of central trope.

I will delve into the bearing that metaphor(m) and its conceptions of an Eshuian Agon has on the concept of originality in art in an upcoming podcast, a GREAT suggestion for a theme from listener Matt Ballou. Thanks Matt!

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 34.
Artistic Agon: Eshu not Oedipus

If you enjoy my podcasts, please go to Apple podcasts and give me 5 stars and a recommendation! It helps others find this podcast. Additionally, if you have any questions or requests for topics, please feel free to contact me with them! I'd truly enjoy covering them!

If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my room-filling painting-installations.

Some recent ones were on the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today and on Mongrel Art. Once again, I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, and the rock band the Handcuffs for composing, performing and recording my theme song, "Shut Up and Paint," a tiny portion of which begins and ends every Dr Great Art Podcast.

You can find or contact me at (spell)

book me at (spell)

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.

07 April 2018

Dr Great Art Episode 33: Michelangelo's Forgery

Dr Great Art podcast. Episode 33: Michelangelo's Forgery.
Did he or didn't he? There is a somewhat frequently-heard accusation that Michelangelo forged ancient Roman sculpture at the start of his career.
#arthistory #michelangelo #forgery


Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 33rd "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.

My artecdote this time concerns the truth and myth of Michelangelo's forgery.

There is a somewhat frequently-heard accusation that Michelangelo forged ancient Roman sculpture at the start of his career. This allegation comes and goes in waves in popular media. And once again recently, I have read a claims concerning it, most with few facts to back them up. I even read one that said he forged "hundreds" of sculptures. Here is the truth.

First, almost no one at this time or even ours, does hundreds of marble sculptures at all! It is extremely demanding work, especially without the assistance of teams of apprentices and modern electric tools. Michelangelo, in his entire career did about 42 to 46 sculptures. His output in every field during his long life was prodigious; he was amazingly prolific. With only that number. There are no "hundreds" and certainly not of forgeries. In fact of the latter, there is only one. And yet there IS one. Sort of.

This forgery anecdote about the artist goes back to Vasari, and originally was meant as a compliment!

The young Michelangelo had been taken in to the workshop/school of Lorenzo, the Magnificent, il Magnifico, de Medici. And that was because Lorenzo was impressed with how faithfully and adeptly the artist was mimicking aspects of ancient sculpture. This was much desired, and was the key to the whole Renaissance, at least at first. They wished to be a
Re-naissance, a Re-Birth of the "Ancients," yet with Christian and newly interpreted Neo-Platonic ideals, leaving the stylizations of Medieval art behind --- which was art and thought they considered to be backward and oppressive.

One stone sculpture by the young, precocious artist was particularly impressive, that of a sleeping cupid. The art dealer Baldassari del Milanese apparently told the young sculptor he could sell the work. Unbeknownst to Michelangelo, (or possibly with his help, yet hiding the reasons), he aged the sculpture of the sleeping cupid artificially by caking it in earth, burying it, etc. This was to give it the aura of a newly rediscovered Roman or Greek sculpture, which were all the rage among collectors, especially Cardinals, in Rome.

Baldassari probably intended to sell it for a, thus, very high price, much higher than one could get for a new work by an unknown young artist, and then keep most of the money, giving Michelangelo only a small part. He probably thought it was a one-off, a bit of technical "luck" on the part of the artist. Little did he know what the aims, talents and future successes of Michelangelo were and would be.

Did the artist go along with the dupe? There are two possibilities. First, he did not and the dealer was acting alone. Or second, and more likely, Michelangelo did not go along with it, but when he realized what was happening, decided to use it to his advantage.

The buyer was indeed a cardinal, who realized he had been duped, and became angry at the dealer alone, forcing him to return his fee. There is a good possibility that Michelangelo himself leaked the information to the cardinal.

The cardinal was Raffaello Riario of San Giorgio, who was impressed by Michelangelo's virtuosity, thus he didn’t press any charges against him. In fact quite the opposite. He allowed Michelangelo to keep his share of the deal and also invited him to come to Rome. The artist was still only about twenty years old and immediately renowned in good circles.

Much later, the piece became part of the d'Este collection in Mantua, which also helped Michelangelo increase his reputation. Purportedly, his Sleeping Cupid was displayed along with ancient marble sculptures then attributed to the most renowned of the Attic sculptors, Praxiteles.

Much later, the Sleeping Cupid was acquired by Charles I of England. It most probably was destroyed in the great fire of the Palace of Whitehall in London in 1689.

So there you have it. Michelangelo did NOT make a career of forgeries --- he did not need to. His ancient-leaning, yet thereby radically new style was in great demand. It summed up what many had actually been searching for. But he was crafty enough to use the attempted corrupted trickery of a dealer to his own advantage.

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 33.
Michelangelo's Forgery

If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

You can find or contact me at (spell)

book me at (spell)

or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.

01 April 2018

Post Kowtow: Massive Change in Direction of Artworld (April 1)

A Classic. For April First.
Originally published April 1, 2006

Shark News Service, New York

Similar to the totally unexpected collapse of Communism in the years around 1989, a complete rearrangement of the power structure in the world of fine art was announced today.

The rapid and unexpected collapse of the Communist systems of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe continues to mystify scholars and citizens alike. A parallel phenomenon seems to have occurred today. All curators in a massive guilt-ridden attack of moral conscience have simultaneously renounced all claims to leading, directing or educating the artworld. They have decided to return to what they do best, if agonizingly --- fundraising, aperitifs and putting up with difficult artists.

To prove the point, the next directors of Documenta, the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Biennial and all other large "top o' the pops" art exhibitions will be presided over by practicing artists, with curators as assistants. Additionally, the curators have enforced self-disciplinary measures in collaboration with art critics. In the future, speeches at art openings will be less than 15 minutes, only one speaker will be allowed and the content will not consist of telling viewers why the work is so important even though they don't like it. Reviews and catalogue essays will never have more than one reference to Derrida, Lacan or Nietzsche per paragraph. Furthermore, all curators and critics have promised to take creative writing classes under well-known authors and editors in order to learn how to actually compose essays. This will include meetings in a newly founded group "Clich├ęs Anonymous," following a 12-step plan for the abstention from delusions of dictatorial control. A special sub-group has been founded for curators in the German-speaking world, focusing on a detox program helping them withdraw from the abuse of Large Romantic Abstractions in writing.

Collectors have voluntarily joined in, saying that their actions till now had actually been "ironically intended" anyway. From now on, instead of hiring curators to tell them what to buy for investment sake, they have decided to actually read books and visit exhibitions on their own, deciding what they like, and buying that! The auction houses have proclaimed that in a spirit of detente, they will cease attempting to replace galleries. Finally, with the pressure removed, all gallery dealers have announced that they will begin to make discoveries of new artists themselves, not waiting for curator, that they will even seek out mid-career artists, not only juvenescent ones. They also plan to form long-lasting relationships with artists.

The artists we have contacted are completely astounded and confused. Most living artists have never considered the possibility of actually having control over their world and have no plans for "Post Kowtow" as it has been dubbed. It appears many curatorial favorites have already committed suicide. Various artists have openly admitted to considering giving up brown-nosing on the one hand and whining on the other.

Oppositely, however, in other news, the world of stand-up comedy has decided to take over where the previous artworld left off. From now on, comedians will not appear on TV, other than as assistants. Instead, agents and managers will take their place. In place of comedy routines, these "comedy facilitators" will discuss the ways in which they arrange for comedians to appear. Or did so, previous to the change, that is. According to one former 10-percenter and now star, this will "result in a far more critical, deconstructive and analytic comedy-world." He went on to quote Foucault, Derrida and Nietzsche.