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Sights of Contention :
Mark Jarzombek
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Kardon's analysis should be critiqued not for its alienation to art, but rather for its uncritical acceptance of this "scientific" legitimation of art interpretation, which I call "late formalism." It assumed a quasi-scientific dispassion in the face of art. As a formalist "scientist," Dennis Barrie described a Mapplethorpe photograph with the necessary professional distance. 
    The original is quite striking. . . in terms of light and composition. It is certainly not a titillating composition, and where it is certainly a very tough and, for some, very disgusting subject, it is very well realized.32 Appendx 2 page break 69 | 70
This "scientific" and professional reading of Mapplethorpe, with its inherently masculine interpretative sheen, fulfills in an unintended and bizarre way the masculine content of Mapplethorpe's photography. Scientific dispassion is not alien to the photographs that parody (perhaps even cruelly) a type of science of observation unto themselves. The directors' responses, though attempting to avoid the problem of subject matter, replicate the vision of the artist better than could have been achieved in any other context. As a male response to a male art that is itself distant and stiff, the directors' various responses answered Mapplethorpe's dispassion and perhaps tragically but predictably entrapped it within itself.33  Their controlled testimony from the witness box came closer to giving us insights into the Mapplethorpian aesthetic than Danto's insistence that we feel the art in and for itself (without, of course, the values becoming "ours").34  Danto's claim that we see the content misses the point of Mapplethorpe's photography, which revolves tantalizingly around voiding content. In critiquing the directors and admiring Mapplethorpe, Danto thus failed to recognize underlying similarities in the bizarre alliance between museum directors and Mapplethorpe, not only in location but in descriptive words.  Both aspire to a masculine autonomy of observation. The fact that Mapplethorpe was homosexual (i.e., is legitimately "male") does not mean that his male optic is any more legitimate than that the professional male optic of the directors is illegitimate. The difference is that he used it to make art, not analyze it. 

The problem with Kardon's scientific "description" is therefore not with its apparent alienation from art (it is meant to be alienation in the same way, but in different terms, as Mapplethorpe), but in the attempt to locate meaning through distance. Art is studied not in and for itself, so the theory goes, out of some personal interest. Rather, through intense, unprejudiced observation it teaches us—so it claims—about ourselves. Robert Sobieszek, curator of photography at the George Eastman House, explained that Mapplethorpe's art was not an arbitrary game, but "a search for meaning," by which he meant that it should be judged not as an involuntary psychological disturbance, but out of artistic exploration itself. Questions of beauty or ugliness must to be discussed in the context of the artist's work, not as abstract a priori determinants. "We learned," one juror commented after the Mapplethorpe trial, "that a work doesn't have to be pretty to be art."35 

An argument similar to this led Ervin Panofsky, a few decades ago, to interpret the Baroque not as its previous detractors had—namely as an art of the deformed, vulgar, and unclassical—but as the very paradigm of modern self-consciousness. The emotional intensity and sensuality of Caravaggio was not the product of loose sentiAppendx 2 page break 70 | 71mentality, but of the painter's confidence in human emotions. The sensual and orgasmic content of Bernini's St. Theresa was not vicarious eroticism, but a search for inner depth.36   Rudolf Arnheim took a similar tack when he defended "schizoid art." Art of the insane, instead of being merely the jottings of madmen, provide profound insights into human expressivity. In looking at the work of Vincent van Gogh, for example, Arnheim felt that schizophrenia, instead of being a debilitating disease, actually enhanced van Gogh's creative abilities, releasing energies that strengthened and intensified his artistic work.37 

    As a result, psychotic artworks touch vulnerable aspects of the human mind so directly that they arouse emotional public responses almost everywhere . . . only because it derived from deep-seated psychological sources shared by all human beings.38
The unprejudiced view of art enabled "difficult" art to be salvaged from offhand aesthetic judgments and placed in the context of our enlightenment and humanity. Baroque, schizoid, and of course modern art in general were argued to contribute to a greater cultural significance than might be apparent at first glance. Panofsky investigated the Baroque because such study provides valuable insights into the nature of modern self-consciousness. Arnheim saw schizoid art as offering valuable insights into the workings of creativity, and Greenberg defended the difficult art of modernist abstraction because it served a determining role in leading a skeptical and nostalgic bourgeoisie away from its love of inconstancy and popular culture. Unlike kitsch, which he felt constituted a culturally dangerous anti-art, modernist art elevated our collective aesthetic consciousness. T. S. Eliot, an important American formalist, explained in his "Cultural Forces in the Human Order," that "in the end, the judgment of a work of art by either religious or aesthetic standards will come to the same thing."39  Morality was achieved not through preaching, but through the artwork. 

The prosecution lawyers were obviously unaware of this aspect of formalist history, because they failed to notice that the museum directors could not legitimize Mapplethorpe's "difficult art" for its larger humanistic purposes as the theory demands. This would have been a dangerous task anyway, as it would certainly have been twisted by the prosecution to become a defense of gay practices. The museum directors could not go beyond the designation "difficult," and in the process equated—unintentionally but demeaningly—homosexual art with Baroque and schizoid art. At first, Danto seems to fall into the same trap.Appendx 2 page break 71 | 72 

    One worked one's way past portraits, nudes, and still lifes, some in shaped and classy frames, until one comes to a room, diagonally across from the threshold, of difficult images.40 
In this, Danto was not saying anything different from the museum directors. "They are images of rejection, aggression, anxiety," Martin Friedman explained; as such, "they are without doubt, difficult images, but they are images central to his work."41  Mapplethorpe was not making snapshots of lewd situations or recording "practices within the gay community," as a police officer tried to contextualize Mapplethorpe; but  "reacted painfully" to his conditions, Friedman added.42next page 
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