Letters published in the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal


The Opinion Pages | LETTER The Individual Genius JULY 26, 2014

To the Editor:

Re “The End of ‘Genius,’ ” by Joshua Wolf Shenk (Sunday Review, July 20):

The postmodern attempt to disenfranchise the individual artist has been characteristic of academic writing and teaching for decades. Mr. Shenk joins this crowd. “But the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness,” we read with amusement. Says who? Didn’t Mr. Shenk write his article himself? Or did he have help? Of course, there was the New York Times editor.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald had a great editor, but Maxwell Perkins didn’t write their books. Sure Cézanne and Pissarro learned from each other and from many, many predecessors. Artists always have. This doesn’t change the fact that the artist is the one who makes the work, and, yes, the one who is influenced. To emphasize otherwise not only diminishes the individuality of human beings, artists in particular, but also foists either a politically underpinned communality or a New Age-y codependency onto them, or both.

Most artists are dedicated, in service to their art, to resisting such undermining forces and cultivating their own whole beings, which may or may not thrive on collaboration.

New York, July 20, 2014
The writer is a painter and an author.

Sunday Book Review
It’s the Art That Matters
Published: January 28, 2011

To the Editor:

Deborah Solomon, reviewing Phoebe Hoban’s biography of Alice Neel, wonders “how a woman who was so narcissistic and needy became such an empathetic chronicler of other lives” (“The Nonconformist,” Jan. 2).

Redrawing the picture of Neel’s life this way underlines a wrongheaded approach to her painting typical of postmodern art and criticism: hype the artist’s personal foibles in place of her art. The answer to Solomon’s misleading question is, of course, “because she was brilliantly talented.” Neel’s paintings are great because they were greatly painted, not because they are chronicles of personalities. She was a master of color, line, form and composition, as well as an incisive translator of facial expression. It’s about time she was recognized purely as a great painter, rather than treated as a handy object for prurience and voyeurism. She is still stereotyped as odd and outré simply because she was less inhibited than the average repressed, fashion-obsessed denizen of the New York art world.

The world is full of “narcissistic and needy” people, but such a state is clearly a motivation, to someone who is also a highly talented and keen observer, to become an “empathetic chronicler of other lives.”

,New York

A version of this letter appeared in print on January 30, 2011, on page BR6 of the Sunday Book Review.


NEW YORK'S MUSEUMS; Post-Quality July 18, 2004, Sunday
To the Editor:
Michael Kimmelman decries the low esthetic standards and circusy pop culture ambitions of New York's art museums with crocodile tears. He and many other art critics bear a heavy responsibility for the disastrously low culture in our supposed "high culture" institutions. The critics have plenty of company in this--as so many artists, curators, museum directors, collectors, dealers and academics have given us over the past thirty years or so the era of so-called "post-modernism," based in the destruction of aesthetic values, authenticity and judgments of quality in art. Other criteria ruled: politics, fashion, careerism, vanity and venality. These weighed upon art before, of course, but never so thoroughly dominated it. Until this philistine basis is comprehensively supplanted, the art world will not have the capability to "live up to that responsibility to cherish and preserve culture for posterity," as much as Mr. Kimmelman may wish it to.

DANA GORDON Goshen, N.Y.  

Give the Money to Artists, Not Bureaucrats August 12, 1999, Thursday
To the Editor:
Re “Culture Has No Infrastructure” (Op-Ed, Aug. 9), by Alice Goldfarb Marquis:
…perhaps the Pew Charitable Trusts, which will spend $50 million over the next five years to try to develop a “national policy” for arts and culture, can unearth something about art and artists. If it finds out how to get money directly to artists, it will at least show how to finance art rather than art bureaucrats. Artists are not nonprofit organizations.
Contrary to the article’s suggestion, popularity is no basis for the support of art. If it were, there would be support only for the inanities, corporate and otherwise, that pass as popular culture.
Fifty million dollars is not an “astounding” amount of money to spend on the arts. Fifty billion dollars on the arts? Then maybe you’ll have culture.
DANA GORDON New York, Aug. 9, 1999

Comics and the Bard April 1, 1998, Wednesday
To the Editor:
Brent Staples's ''Why Comics Are as Important as Shakespeare'' (Editorial Observer, March 29) sets a new low for dumbing down. Under the disguise of ''start early and use whatever works,'' he condemns children in bad schools and whose parents are not very literate to a life of reading comics, fast-food menus and minimum-wage job forms.
Maybe children learn a little grammar from comics. They will certainly learn a few violent, narrative diagrams. But unless from the beginning they are made to read the greatest writing, they will not be exposed to the depth, complexity and reach of human experience and potential, especially their own.
DANA GORDON New York, March 29, 1998

Elevating the Spirit July 4, 1997, Friday
To the Editor:
Re ''Generous to a Fault'' (Op-Ed, July 2), which attacks tax deductions for arts donations:
The problem is how to raise the arts and disseminate a real appreciation of quality in a society dominated by a throw-away popular culture created by corporations for commercial purposes. Private donations to museums are neither an undemocratic nor an uneconomic way to try to, as Mr. Stein says, ''elevate the spirit of the population.''
DANA GORDON New York, July 2, 1997

And in the Wall Street Journal:

MAY 19, 2008…How Much Is Originality Worth?

Barbara Rose's paean to the artist Robert Rauschenberg's splendid life and career is certainly justified ("Rauschenberg's Revolution . . . ," Leisure & Arts, May 14). And he possibly is "the biggest innovator in art after Jackson Pollock," as she claims.

But the current celebration of his life begs the questions that should be nagging the art world: Is novelty the most dependable, or even the necessary, sign of greatness in art? Can novelty in itself be an art medium?

Is Mr. Rauschenberg's art great on any counts but obsessive novelty?

The assumption that novelty (or transgression) in itself is enough -- for which Rauschenberg was a champion to a large portion of several generations of art and art history students -- has produced decades of prominent visual art emptied of visual quality and 50 years of pastiches of Mr. Rauschenberg's simplistic, if amusing, juxtapositions. But not everyone has taken him seriously. Nevertheless, closing "the gap between life and art" has succeeded only in dumbing down both.

Dana Gordon 
 New York