That Jeff Koons feeling

Jed Perl opposes Jeff Koons:

The sculptures and paintings of this fifty-nine-year-old artist are so meticulously, mechanically polished and groomed that they rebuff any attempt to look at them, much less feel anything about them.

But four paragraphs later:

Koons knows how to capitalize on the guilty pleasure that the museumgoing public takes in all his mixed messages. He knows how to leave people feeling simultaneously ironical, erudite, silly, sophisticated, and bemused.

Does Koons make people feel things, or does he not?  Or are irony, erudition, silliness, sophistication, and bemusement feelings that don’t count as feelings?

Jed Perl writes well but I find his judgment strange.  About Jeff Koons I have no opinion.  But I remember his name because of the piece he wrote about Francis Bacon, which seems to suggest that people like Bacon not because of anything in the paintings, but because the artist sports a biography and attitude that appeals to mushy-minded would-be avant-gardists.  “The Bacon mystique,” Perl writes, “is not grounded in his paintings so much as in a glamorous list of extenuating circumstances.”

To me this makes no sense.  I went to a small museum which was showing some of Bacon’s paintings and I was knocked over by them.  Whoa, what is that?  I had no idea who he was, or whether he was glamorous, or whether it was cool to like him.

I think it’s OK to say (as Perl also does, later in that piece) that Bacon is a stupid painter and only people who are stupid about painting like his paintings.  But it’s crazy to deny that people actually do like Bacon’s paintings, as such, not just the idea of Bacon’s paintings, or the idea of being the kind of person who likes Bacon’s paintings.

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10 thoughts on “That Jeff Koons feeling

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    re-buff, ha ha …

  2. It seems plausible that Perl’s distinguishing between first order and second order emotional responses here. The emptions or feelings he lists in the second quote are, more or less canonically, ways one feels about one’s own reactions, rather than about the thing one is reacting to.

  3. DS says:

    But can’t one simply be mistaken about liking a painting (or any other class of objects that has a history of being objects of appreciation)? One can imagine two ways such a thing could happen: either in the failing to read one’s own mental state — that it does not conform to what counts as liking a given painting (like failing to play a game correctly) or by mistaking the object of the liking as the painting when it is something else entirely, perhaps the idea of liking the painting (if I am not mistake, something like this seems to be Bacon’s point)?

  4. DS says:

    Apologies. Bacon <- Perl. And for the repetition: the last clause of my last sentence seems to have repeated the last clause of your last sentence.

  5. Bobito says:

    A lot of people like pornography. That doesn’t mean it is art, even if it is technically well done. Traditionally in the world of high art the work of someone like Bacon was viewed as a kind of visual pornography. What has changed is that now even art critics feel less guilty about enjoying pornography.

  6. Jan says:

    I would like to take issue with your very last statement, JSE. I do not think that it is crazy at all to question whether people actually like X or just like the idea of liking X. At times I have caught myself taking an interest in X purely because I wanted to be the kind of person that had an interest in X. I do not consider this a bad thing per se — compare people staking out their identity by wearing a certain type of clothes — and it has brought me wonderful things: a profound appreciation of many classical composers, for example. What Perl seems to be saying is precisely this: besides the pleasure that indulging in our conformist tendencies brings us, Koons’ art has nothing further to offer.

    I do agree that he seems to use the word ‘feeling’ in two different ways. But I think Peli Grietzer offers a satisfactory reading of the apparently conflicting passages.

  7. Based on my typo I suggest that ’emptions’ be baptized to mean ‘2nd order emotions.’

  8. JSE says:

    Surely it should mean “emotions undergone while reading Seven Types of Ambiguity.”

  9. NDE says:

    So a first-order emotion is a preemption?

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