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Diane Thodos is an artist and art critic and was a student of Donald Kuspit at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 1987 to 1992. DK: I think ita€™s over for a lot of those people and one of the things I see happening is a return to tradition in a variety of ways (without mimicking it). DT: Regarding the postmodern problem I remember you once raised the question in class about why is it artists dona€™t allow themselves to go back to being influenced by a tradition. DT: And at this point when you think of the incredible diversity that occurred (I remember you talking about the a€?Big Banga€? of Modernist creativity at the beginning of the last century around 1905 a€“ 24) we still have these rich aesthetic Modernist traditions that have barely scratched the surface of their possibilities in a sense. DK: They probably do have emotions in their lives a€“ I dona€™t see how they couldna€™t a€“ but they split it off and deal with a€?official a€? issues of art. DT: You have often written about the exclusion of experiential depth in the great morass of conceptual art that dominates todaya€™s art world. DK: Well, as you know certain groups a€“ for example October most notoriously - have attacked humanism quite explicitly. DT: Yes - referring to the title of the book written by Jacques Ellul The Technological Society. DT: Yes - they are playing video games all the time, they are on the cell phone all the time, or constantly texting. DT: Like what Picabia was talking about when he had his Orphic ideas in painting and then transformed them into the Dadaist idea of the machine? DK: Most subtle, and the most complicated organ apparently ever created by nature from what I have read. I feel this writing reflects a historical a€?revisiona€? of Muncha€™s work that intends to desublimate the power of his work by making him into an everyday huckster. DT: This brings me to the question a€“ do we have historical revisionism today thata€™s working as a means of not merely avoiding the presence of emotion in art, but being destructive of the importance of emotional sublimation in art? DK: What I would say has happened is the avant-garde a€“ avant gardism - has become institutionalized. DT: He was part of the Modernist movement even though he was complicit in horrible atrocities. DT: In the Leni Riefenstahl film Triumph of the Will it is interesting how rigidly the soldiers march in tight box formations. DT: And that hea€™s a hustler, that we are all the same, and that this is an everyday kind of thing.
DT: Do you see shades of George Orwella€™s book 1984 when the Whitney Museum claims there is great diversity in art when there is just the opposite.
DK: I am telling you he is getting the award this year - or why is Bruce Nauman in the Whitney Biennale? DT: Getting into a big subject here - on your suggestion I have read Jacques Ellula€™s book The Technological Society [first published in 1964] and was struck by his prophetic insight about the present.
DK: Not only do you get more and more efficient, is shuts out what you call the a€?dark areaa€? - it shuts out emotion, because emotion is inefficient.
DT: Ita€™s not like watching an Andre Tarkovsky film where you get this incredible Dostoyevskian poetic depth. DK: Ita€™s very interesting to see this a€“ the sets, the clothing, the environments they create - this Americana scene. DK: When people talk about Americanization they are talking about standardization with a vengeance.
DT: Do you feel, in reference to Jacque Ellula€™s book The Technological Society, that technique as an absolute standardization of means also relates to how artists have become these sort of glorified commercial producers of brand name products: in other words formatting the product to streamline the marketing system? DK: Yes a€“ but remember when there used to be the Soho Guggenheim that was at the corner of Prince Street and West Broadway?
DK: I dona€™t think they do this anymore, but the shoes are brought out every morning and exhibited like precious objects.


DT: Is marketing as you see it a€“ the way this American Capitalist marketing system operates a€“ part of the efficiency of technique in a sense?
DK: Unless you want to have success for five minutes after getting out of the program - ita€™s shorter than 15 minutes these days. DT: Conceptualism wants to create ita€™s own self-fulfilling propaganda and have no dialectical relationship outside of that? DK: He just stuck with it and made this special amalgamation of expressionism and the figure a€“ but he had the strength of will to do that.
DT: So you need the strength of will to separate yourself from the things that do not give you the diversity of experience you need? DK: And there is the argument that Harold Rosenberg made in relation to Arshile Gorky, that his apprenticeship was good a€“ Picasso to Miro a€“ and his work was quite different from theirs, derivative but an interesting derivation at that.
DT: Getting back to the issue of exclusion and censorship I remember once you talked about a€“ and I think ita€™s absolutely true a€“ in the late 80a€™s how women were starting to enter the art world more and more but their work was very novelty oriented in the neo-conceptual art mode.
DK: It has been a lucky experience that I have met women artists in their 60a€™s who have been working for years and who I think are making pretty profound art.
DT: That is a very important point because their schooling would have dated from a time when you could learn techniques. DK: What these artists have is also a persistent curiosity about learning and are knowledgeable about many other things. DT: So ita€™s like the stream of life is the effective force that brings the art along, as witness to it.
DT: When I was a student here in New York at School of Visual Arts from 1987 a€“ 1989, one thing that confused me tremendously was how trends occurred in the art world. DT: I was in New York from 1987 a€“ 1992 starting with two years graduate school when you were my teacher. DK: Whatever you may think of Thatcher, Saatchi understood the connection of art and advertising in a way that even Warhol didna€™t a€“ the connection of art and publicity. DK:A  And art openings have an atmosphere a little different than if we met in a boardroom or a restaurant where we would eat, chat, or make our deal. DT:A  Everything is getting extremely distended and abstracted from any meaningfulness in terms of what is sold and what the art actually is. Now in America the art may have to do with some sense of Puritanism - a sense of shame about a€?letting it all hang outa€? unless of course you got a TV camera in front of you.
DT:A  Knowable human content is easier to grasp that the sort of attenuation of abstraction into, if you will, more and more of a conceptual mode?
DT:A  He had draughtsmanship, he loved Soutine, and you could see the lushness of the color. DT:A  I remember very clearly the day in class you described the difference between the erotic and the pornographic. DT:A  And also about how the Christian religion downgraded the body and split the body from the spirit, demonizing Eros. DK:A  They talked about how there was uncertainty that was entering the art auctions.A  Whata€™s the relationship between this blob and one and a half million dollars? DK:A  From a New York perspective the money seems to veil the art a€“ to be the clothing of the art. DT:A  This is the a€?technological societya€? where the media is in collusion with the promotion of this art. DK:A  Look at how thick it is with advertisements filled with current art images with nice color and all that a€“ so therea€™s marketing.
DK:A  All I can say is I know and respect those who know the money side and they say the whole thing is a Ponzi scheme.
DK:A  So you can look, leta€™s say, at our Hoover vacuum cleaner man and you can analyze that a€“ you can do a very interesting interpretation of what thata€™s all about. DT:A  Well now they will go see a kitsch skull by Damien Hirst and it will be just as sensational, which is really a sad thing.


DK:A  Well, there is a wonderful thing - there is this Bonham Gallery and they are selling meteoritesa€¦.
DK:A  I looked at this stuff and I said to myself this is a terrific expression of sculpturea€¦ha! DT:A  What about what the artist Otto Dix experience in WWI expressed in his War Series prints? DT: Another question- you had Theodore Adorno as your teacher and a very strong background in philosophy.A  Can you comment on how this enriched your approach to critical interpretation in a nutshell? DT:A  So in the Frankfurt School Adornoa€™s approach had a lot to do with dialectical thinking in philosophy and psychoanalysis. DT:A  It certainly is a voice which I find is distinctly different from your art criticism.A  How did your interest in writing this poetry develop and what were the motivating forces that brought it out in you?
DK:A  Also some new things have been published on an online magazine, Per Contra, run by a wonderful literary person named Miriam Kotzin. DT:A  I am always intrigued that there are different parts of oneself that have different needs that somehow extend themselves into other forms and types of spaces.A  Was it the growing up with the Germanic tradition in poetry that began your motivation?A  Was it French Symbolist poetry? DT:A  It is remarkable to see that you can occupy different dimensions of space within writing. DT:A  I enjoy the freedom that the poetry gives a€“ the emotional breath about it, the atmospheric breadth it has. DT:A  Well, it takes sitting down and reading poetry too, and sometimes the spoken element is different from just reading the words. DK:A  This may not be what the official system loves, you may never get a museum show, but it will have its validity. DT:A  I have this internal environment that is absolutely jam pack filled with things that have to be created. A The Rijka€™s museum exhibit of Damien Hirsta€™s Skull is also an attempt to destroy the authentic art that was already there in the museum. A Originally he had set up his print shop Studio 17 in Paris where a lot of the avant-garde artists there came to print. A I was very confused about how it operated - what was its modus operandi.A  By that time in the late 1980a€™s anti-art already had a very strong hold within the art world. A I needed someone who could give me some real answers.A  I recall you had once criticized certain art of the 1980a€™s as being the equivalent of junk bonds. The problem, maybe, today because of both the society of the spectacle and because of the anti-art tendency anti- aesthetic tendency, is that ita€™s become confused. A Art is the certain moment when you reach an idea of the transvaluation of values, and the thing acquired a certain value.A  Now, whatever else is going on, say, with Mr. Ita€™s a dialectical integration of opposites and it carries forward into psychoanalytic thinking which is where a lot of Adornoa€™s ideas come from a€“ conflict theory. He fled France because of the invading German army during World War II.A  He had been producing pamphlets in his print shop on how to blow up German tanks. A Many came to Studio 17 to have contact with members of the European avant-garde who they revered.
A I believe anyone could study there as long as you were a serious printmaker and you followed his instruction making the experimental test plate.A  At the time Hayter did not have a high profile status the way DeKooning and Pollock did.
A A In todaya€™s art world do you see the work of Jeff Koons and those like him being similar to toxic assets - both financially and spiritually - to use a current terminology?



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