Galleries

Speaking Out Against Commercial Photography as Art

by Tom Winchester on August 26, 2011

Editor’s Note: After this post was published we discovered that the author has mistakenly claimed that the artist had created the images associated with a commercial assignment. The photographer contacted us and informed us that, “the series was an entirely self-funded body of work inspired by a [commercial] assignment in 2008.” She tells us that many of the images were staged well after the commercial assignment itself.

Jill Greenberg, "Untitled (Glass Ceiling 1-1017)" (2008) (all photos by the author)

If you were to ask any passing New Yorker about the glass ceiling, he or she might tell you about how an incompetent boss is promoting people who don’t deserve it, or that the government defends the Defense of Marriage Act even after repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But unless you’re at photographer Jill Greenberg’s recent show at Clamp Art, I doubt a description of a translucent disembodying threshold will enter the conversation. For Glass Ceiling Greenberg takes a literal interpretation of the phrase and turns it into a situation that perpetuates the power struggle it’s meant to combat.

The literature surrounding the show claims that this series of headless mannequin-like women floating in a pool is a critique of sexual exploitation, and that the view from underneath the water that excludes their heads and faces accentuates the work as such. Yet the photographs’ waist-level close-ups and Polly-Pocket color palette overpower and extinguish the irony necessary for such a critique.

Jill Greenberg, "Untitled (Glass Ceiling 2-650)" (2010) exhibited with (foreground) "Glass Slipper" (2011)

Many photographers will claim the lines between their commercial work and their artwork are often blurred, and if they’re like Greenberg, they’ll even admit to shooting a commercial editorial and then exhibiting the outtakes in a Chelsea gallery. Such a situation begs two aphorisms: being a commercial photographer doesn’t grandfather you into the artists’ club, and sometimes it’s hard to appreciate commercial projects in their own right if all they do is objectify women.

Jill Greenberg, "American Girl Doll" (2010)

In my opinion, Greenberg hasn’t made any art of any note since her senior thesis show at RISD twenty years ago entitled The Female Object. Greenberg references her thesis project in her artist’s statement as an attempt to cast Glass Ceiling in a feminist light. Yet none of her work made between then and now resembles either series. Instead, the context she’s built over the last twenty years is a highly commercial one, exemplified by her online portfolio’s genre distinctions that clearly aren’t artistically considered like “Dogs,” “Shiny Faces,” which shows a thumbnail of Glenn Beck, and “Conceptual,” which includes a photo of a bikini-clad girl raising a beach ball like she’s Atlas.

Jill Greenberg, "Untitled (Glass Ceiling 2-428)" (2010)

Greenberg is just one of the many poster children for why the differences between art and commercial photography should be more distinct. If viewers and buyers did more than just ignore shows like Glass Ceiling, if they spoke out against utilizing the art world simply for commercial means, if they emailed gallerists and artists about what’s art and what’s not, then work that attempts to to deal with important social issues, like feminism, might stop resembling what’s on the pages of magazines with a predictable dash of theory thrown in.

Jill Greenberg: Glass Ceiling was on view at Clamp Art (521-531 West 25 Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) from June 16 to August 19, 2011.

 

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  • http://twitter.com/LoriZimmer Lori Zimmer

    I totally agree. Well written

  • Anonymous

    I would add Graphic Design as well. I’ve seen too many slick, over-produced – and often shallow – images only too find out later that the “artist” spends their daylight hours producing graphics for TV news sequences or logos for corporations. They may have studied fine art in school, but it’s easy to tell when they haven’t pursued it as their primary focus.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Lori, I’m glad you agree. Rejinl, your comment makes me think of Shepard Fairey. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=578565896 Vicki DaSilva

    the photo world and art world are on two different planets!  the majority of the photo work for years has been editorial passing as fine art..from the camera stare down no smiles family/friend/self portraits ad nauseam purporting ‘relationship psychology’ to Jill’s glass ceiling it seems to have no end in sight. epic fail for photog ‘artists’ & ‘art’ galleries.

  • http://twitter.com/jillmanipulator jill greenberg

    i never show commercial work as art, i completely agree with you. i would never show celebrity portraits for example. but as an image maker who constructs and deconstructs images during my day job as well as every other minute i am awake, i hardly feel that my “focus” is elsewhere. unfortunately i was not born with enough money to simply make art to support my family, thus i shoot commercially as well. i love doing both, and they inform each other.
    Tom’s screed against me hammers home the point that women are regarded differently and rarely given anything resembling a “pass” when trying to push the envelope. thanks for that. enjoy the hurricane.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      “Pushing the envelope”? Don’t you think that’s for others to judge, writing that about yourself sounds pretentious.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Phil-Stein/1029663851 Phil Stein

      If you were a 22yr old daughter of some CEO living in NY with a massive trust fund there would be no discussion. 

      Artists in our society, just like women in business still have to apologize for being, professional, competitive and highly skilled. The establishment has created this myth of non commercial purity – sounds like virginity, so that we can be exploited to serve their commercial interests. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked through Chelsea and saw nothing in the galleries showing photography, that even comes close to the level of technical skill & knowledge of design in a simple ad campaign posted right outside their doors

    • Anonymous

      I’m a woman painter, I’m sensitive to sexism and mistreatment in the art world. But I think work like this that blatantly continues to pander to the male gaze, masquerading as “feminism,” needs to stop. This work ONLY makes sense in the context of commercial photography, which I think is the crux of the article: taking photographs for money is fine (no one cares how you make money) but don’t slap some pseudo-feminist babble on top of your day job work and put it in a gallery under the guise of fine art. This isn’t even a critique on a magazine spread: it IS a magazine spread.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robertogreen Robert Green

    i assume that this critique would encompass photogs such as martin scholler showing their commercial portraits as art on walls (his show at Ace Gallery in LA was nothing but his commercial work), or photogs such as Rankin just showing pictures of naked women with nice lighting that is EXACTLY the same as their commercial work (or the travelling annie leibovitz show).  i entirely agree.  that isn’t art.  and jill is asked constantly (i can say confidently as her husband!) to exhibit her commercial work in galleries, or to sell her art to commercial enterprises or brands, and she always says no, for the very reason that she too sees this as a different sphere.

    i guess i’m confused as to what your critique has to do with the work itself.  either you like it as art or you don’t.  jill is an artist–i know this because i can buy her work at any one of 6 art galleries that represent her, i can read about her on art blogs, and i can go to her website and see she has an are resume qua art that is extensive and is in quite serious collections.  the question of her status is moot–it has been answered, unless there is something you know that the Kemper, the West Collection, etc. etc doesn’t know that you do, which just sounds like sour grapes.   and inevitably i have to ask if you have in past made the same critique of any male photographers.  jill’s a light(n)ing rod for this type of thing due to her having a very public political persona.  if you do, point me to it so that i can then NOT make any false claims about sexism etc.

    an entirely separate question of quality–liking or not liking jill’s work lives in the world of informed opinion and cultural context like any other art–and a blog this good obviously is going to weigh in with a valued analysis.  but to try to pigeon-hole jill, or force her into an argument you are having with someone about something else (“can commercial art be art” is not relevant to this series since this was an art series by a fine artist, per above).  i’ve been there–to a hammer every problem looks like a nail–and i’ve done that. it brings heat rather than light in my humble opinion.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Hi Jill, I’m glad you’re a part of this conversation. Your husband makes the point that you’re an artist, and that’s a great title, and you both seem nice. I’m making a point about your image-making and editing processes. If you have images that are art, then please show them, not these. The thesis of my post is that these images are the same as your celebrity portraits, despite your intent. I then go on to say that commercial images belong in magazines and art belongs in Chelsea. I’m also glad you mentioned pushing the envelope, because I don’t think you pushed it enough. Certain aspects I think work against you. Can you explain why you used such color? Why are we viewing them from underneath? Why are their legs spread? Do you think these aspects contradict the ideas your artist’s statement mentions? These are the questions I’d like to raise by posting this, and I appreciate your willingness to discuss them.

  • robert green

    i will let jill be civil and answer the questions tom, but i’m going to turn it back around on you:  why did you choose THIS particular photographer, and THIS particular series, to make your point?  there are so many more blatant examples of commercial work on the walls of art galleries, done by all sorts of people. so why her, and why now?  i did dig around on your series of posts and funny enough, i didn’t see this critique directed towards any men (disclaimer:  i may have missed something, and if i did i withdraw the point) who are both shown artistically and who do commercial work.  it’s not dispositive but it is certainly should give one pause.

    and you didn’t respond as to what it is you know as an arbiter of the formal definition of an artist that ClampArt, Fahey-Klein, Kopeikin Gallery, The Kemper Museum, The West Collection, O’Born (toronto), Hagedorn (Atlanta), Jaski Gallery (amsterdam), Acte2 (paris), plus numerous quite serious and important collectors of art don’t know.  are they wrong to collect jill’s art?  

    i can’t “make the point” that jill is an artist.  i’m a hollywood producer and a philistine on my best days.  but those people listed above, they can.  and they have.  they’ve voted with their feet, or their wall space, or their wallets.  and not ONE image they have shown has been something that jill did for a magazine or for her commercial work.  the same can’t be said for galleries showing some celebrity photo or iteration #1,000,000 of naked girls in a photo that passes for art half the time.  i agree (and jill does as well) that just slapping your photo of jack nicholson on the wall ain’t art.  it’s lame.  and it’s lame when a gallery does that.  even a cro-mag like me knows that.  i just don’t see how that’s what we are talking about here.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Hi Robert, I’m glad you’re in the conversation too. It doesn’t matter if Jill is an artist or not, it doesn’t matter if anyone is. (Kandinsky was a lawyer) What’s matters is that people make art. It seems we agree actually that galleries shouldn’t show images made for magazines. (Rankin was a perfect example) The reason I focus on Jill is because there’s something disturbing about a woman displaying images that exploit women. It would be a simple essay on a misogynist if a man did it, but the fact that Jill did it brings up questions as to whether she even realizes what she’s doing. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to illuminate certain aspects—things that are sitting right in front of you. Really, the points I made in the article are obvious, and I’m sure both of you were dealing with these issues internally. I’d love to read Jill’s response to my questions because they remain unanswered. 

  • Brent Dodd
  • Anonymous

    I think that when a person does commercial work that is very close in form and medium to what they make as art, they become blind to how commercial qualities will permeate the art.  The techniques, the eye, the hand, and all the decision making faculties have become corrupted by the commercial practices.  Claiming that that is not so for oneself, does not make it not so. I think the best idea is for artists to make their income as far from commercial product orientation as possible so as not to poison their work.

  • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

    I’m simply going by the images put forth, and have no agenda at all in this situation, except for questioning the credibility of the gallery that found this worthy enough to show.

    Whether the art is art as commercial or as fine art is irrelevant.  As irrelevant as the lazy context attached to these images. This would be weak feminist work in the 60s-70s, which makes it laughable today. There doesn’t seem to be much empowering of those women. View from the bottom, as if they were sexualized shark bait- treading water, unknowingly about to become devoured. BUT, maybe I’m wrong and it IS relevant feminism- it seems to fit in perfectly with the perverted female empowerment of the mainstream cable shows coming out this Fall, PanAm and The Playboy Club. Where the women’s liberation movement got them all the way to…. being able to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want. Clearly, a very bottoms-up view of feminist thinking.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Hi Judith, I think you make really great points. I agree commercialism is a prison. Vicki, your specific examples remind me of college-student tropes that end up on gallery walls, but hopefully the end is in sight. Dominic, the shows coming out this fall on network TV have the kind of ridiculous logic I’m alluding to with this post. Your shark-bait reference reminds me of the August 6th-12th issue of The Economist, which might further emphasize the need to make distinctions we’ve made here.

  • http://twitter.com/TODOSSOMOSPUTOS TODOS SOMOS PUTOS

    Actually, Hrag, it’s you that sounds pretentious here.  Jill’s claim was that she, along with other female artists, were “trying to push the envelope” NOT that they had successfully pushed said envelope.  It’s a valid and honest goal as an artist without pretense.  Had you read more closely, you’d recognize the difference and you owe her an apology for being so unnecessarily catty.  

    Why isn’t David LaChapelle’s work mentioned anywhere in this piece railing against commercial photography masquerading as art or will this be a follow-up piece?  I guess this assumes that photography still matters.    

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Sounds like you’re new to Hyperallergic. We’ve written about LaChapelle in the past and others, so I have no idea why you assume we haven’t. Perhaps you should read this, for instance: http://hyperallergic.com/27249/david-lachapelle-lecture/

      I’ll await my apology, thanks.

      • http://twitter.com/TODOSSOMOSPUTOS TODOS SOMOS PUTOS

        Not new to Hyperallergic.  Just didn’t see the mediocre quality review and surface level background on LaChapelle you graciously offered a link to, in which no criticality appears concerning what’s being aimed at Greenberg and her work. But nice try.

        Try to stay on topic. 

      • http://twitter.com/TODOSSOMOSPUTOS TODOS SOMOS PUTOS

        And it’s cute that you pull the same insecure defense mechanism in the comment section when a reader criticizes the writer of said article.  

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          LOL…you didn’t even the sarcasm in my comment. You also didn’t even read that it wasn’t a review. You’re comments are unfocused and all over the place. They are actually becoming ad hominem attacks, which is what people with no facts usually resort to. I’m sorry you’re taking this personally.

          • http://twitter.com/TODOSSOMOSPUTOS TODOS SOMOS PUTOS

            unclench, Hrag, unclench! 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SYRNOHTZUT4O5MTZCUSMHRMZ3M Thom Thumbs

    I found this discussion to be very interesting. Thank you all for the dialogue.

    As of the point in time that I am writing this comment the artist’s husband’s request, “respond as to what it is you know as an arbiter of the formal definition of an artist that ClampArt, Fahey-Klein, Kopeikin Gallery, The Kemper Museum, The West Collection, O’Born (toronto), Hagedorn (Atlanta), Jaski Gallery (amsterdam), Acte2 (paris), plus numerous quite serious and important collectors of art don’t know.  are they wrong to collect jill’s art?” remains unanswered and I am very interested to hear the author’s response.

    As an emerging artist I often wonder if the notion that Conceptual Art is the only legitimate art will be an idea to stand the test of time. Conceptual Art was the logical result of a chain of historical movements in art questioning philosophy, values, and the world we live in. I don’t disagree with the historical chain of thought. But, it often seems to me that the artistic discourse stunts itself at this point. If an artist utilizes a commercial eye in their work why is that a bad thing? We live in a time where we are more inundated with advertisements and commercial imagery than in any time before this. Why wouldn’t contemporary artists be affected by the surrounding world and use elements of it in their work? Warhol was ignored as a ‘commercial artist’ until he too (by accident or not) was able to provide, to use the author’s words, “a predictable dash of theory thrown in.”

    A lot of wonderful artists create beautiful work with “a predictable dash of theory thrown in.” Take for example Mark Grotjhan’s most recent ‘faces’ paintings: They are, in my opinion, gorgeous works of art that captivate the viewer with their movement, scale, and color. But, of course, he has to reference Picasso’s faces to provide that “predictable dash of theory thrown in” in order to play the contemporary game. My question is, why? Grotjhan’s paintings command top dollar because they are beautiful and interesting yet becoming a successful conceptual painter who wins at the art game is not ‘commercial’ somehow. Why?

    I am not trying to say that there is no difference between commercial art and fine art but I don’t think the author has fully explained that line. Why is one thing art and the other not? If works of art make one question the world we live in and are simultaneously enjoyable to look at I don’t see the problem.

    I ask these questions not because I have a point to argue but I have a question that needs an answer. Thank you in advance to anyone who opts to enlighten me.

  • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

    Thom Thumbs- I think you are really confused about the difference between commArt and Fine Art. Don’t say you don’t understand why we should care much about the difference, and we are oversaturated in a commercial world, so we should be commercial ourselves. That is a really irresponsible stance to take, esp as an “emerging artist.” CommArt is supported by commercially driven companies, be it a magazine, toy company or soda company whatever. The pool of money from those companies to given to “artists” to make propaganda for their promotion and benefit- an advertisment, for lifestyles, products, services etc.

    Fine Art is a relation to life from the artist’s personal experience. If you’re fine with everything we see, listen to, consume being driven by corporate dollars for their adgendas, then who gives a shit about fine art/commArt merging into one. If you care enough for your voice to be heard, your singular voice as relatable to your experiences to better understand your existence here on earth- then you should take offense to shit like that happening. I’d suggest you change your title to “mergers artist” as in, mergers and acquistions.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SYRNOHTZUT4O5MTZCUSMHRMZ3M Thom Thumbs

      ArtistDominic – I am not confused about the difference between commercial and fine art. I am confused why it is a bad thing to use a commercial eye to make a philosophical point as an artist. I also didn’t say that everyone should incorporate commercialism into their art and become commercial either. I fear you reacted rather than thought about my question. Please reconsider.

      You said, “Fine Art is a relation to life from the artist’s personal experience.” So, I’m confused why Jill Greenberg’s series here is in question. She’s a photographer, who also makes commercial work, and has utilized visual techniques of advertising to make her ‘personal experience’ her point in her work. You don’t have to like it. But, there is nothing artistically in error about her process. It is exactly as you say, “a relation to life from the artist’s personal experience.”

      I guess it appears naive to me to think that Fine Art is not almost entirely a commercial venture in itself. The product one is selling may be considered to have a higher personal/social/spiritual/intellectual value than say, deodorant, but both art (once it enters a gallery) and antiperspirant are products made for people who need or enjoy them as ‘things’. My point of referencing Grotjhan’s paintings and questioning the need for them to reference Picasso is that it almost appears he must add “a predictable dash of theory thrown in” to support his personal, and very financially successful, personal brand/experience as an artist. The art world is an extension of Wall Street regardless of the artist’s artistic intentions (if their work is for sale). Their artistic intentions lead to financial results if well received.

      My question again is why it is a bad thing to use a commercial eye to exhibit one’s personal artistic experience if it comes naturally and helps to affirm the artist’s concept?

  • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

    Reading that back it sounded a little agressive and I realize that you were honest in your questioning of the difference, I apologize if you felt attacked. I was responding to the build up of all the comments and the situation and addressed you personally at the begining.

    I will add though, your example of Grotjahn needing to contextualize his work with Picasso’s as a necessary evil in the game that has evolved, I think, because of this very conversation. Because commercial art is so money driven, and fine art talks big dollars at auctions all the time, it seems like- shit I’ll just paint some pictures and make bank and live in the Hamptons. The contextualization of work is a way to really build on precendents set before us, and legitimazes the work into a discourse. It would be like entering an argument and only repeating what the opponent was saying and claiming you said it first and you won the argument. Art is a combination of thought and product, so both need some merit of their own, but also relevance to something its connected to.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SYRNOHTZUT4O5MTZCUSMHRMZ3M Thom Thumbs

      thanks ArtistDominic. no worries. it’s just a blog and I’m leaving ‘anonymous’ questions. I hope you see my response to your earlier post above. thanks.

      • Will Brand

        I get what you’re saying, but I simply don’t think it’s true that there’s a bias against photographers with a commercial eye in the art world. I think that, as you say, there’s an enormous bias (which I feel is correct) in favor of conceptual photographers, or photography-about-photography, but that’s not the other pole on the scale, it’s a whole different axis. There are relatively few (if any) successful art photographers making work that wouldn’t be considered visually good enough for, say, the ad world. That’s a symptom both of a common desire for a common concept of beauty – not quite dead in the art photography world – and young art photographers cutting their teeth and paying rent through commercial jobs. Also, I would hardly use Mark Grotjahn as an example of any kind of failure; I think a more interesting example would be a conceptual photographer making technically bad work.

        • Will Brand

          Also, I think any discussion in this area needs to address Roe Ethridge ( http://www.andrewkreps.com/artists_portfolio.html?aid=54 ), who’s apparently been picked by the Art Power types as a rising star, and whose last show included (and was heavily influenced by) his commercial work. The “predictable dash of theory” was, there, in his self-curation.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SYRNOHTZUT4O5MTZCUSMHRMZ3M Thom Thumbs

          Thanks, Will. For the record, I was in no way saying Grotjhan’s work is in any way a failure. It is my personal opinion that his new paintings could stand alone as works of brilliance without them being connected to Picasso in any theoretical way. But, I probably made a poor choice in using him as an example since I cannot say whether or not he had the idea of connecting his faces to Picasso before or during his creative process – and that is an important distinction to me. I was using the Picasso connection to highlight the “predictable dash of theory thrown in” part of the discussion since again, I just think his work is amazing on its own without need of them relating to Picasso for any major reason other than providing the works with that ever-so-important “theory thrown in” element needed to be considered truly high art.

          Thanks for the link to Roe Etheridge and for your thoughtful answer.

  • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

    I think your thinking is too strict. “I sell something, therefore I am commercial.” commercial has different approaches to production and audience, it is much more broad and much less offensive, because it should alienate as few people (consumers) as possible.

    Fine Art doesn’t have to (or shouldn’t) worry about that. It is geared more towards introducing new ways of thinking, new ways of looking at things, what have you.

    I think the response to Jill’s work is more a response of “here is a commercial photographer that threw together some ‘fine art images’ to have a gallery show” I DON”T KNOW for sure though. I agree with you as to why Jill, why now? But the conversation is exceedingly valid to have, if not perhaps too focused around Jill’s work.

    As far as the “dash of theory” that’s not always wanted or needed. To get to the upper eschelon of Art, it is. Just like being considered to be a Hall of Fame baseball player is. The best of the best, are everything, great image makers, smart about their topics, insightful- the best baseball players are great hitters, for contact and power, steal bases, can field or pitch the best. Ya know. So if you can make kick ass images AND it means something in the discourse of art history then its that. much. more impressive.

  • robert green

    dammit

    comment got eated.

    anyway, any other aggressive males want to weigh in on jill’s feminist bona fides?  i always LOVE to hear what men think about feminism, it’s so illuminating.  don’t hesitate to make sweeping generalizations, discuss concepts you seem to have thought for AT LEAST MINUTES about and so on.  

    tom, the guy who ran your MFA program collects jill’s work.  it’s possible, JUST maybe, that you have been a bit hasty in your critique.  

    and tomos, don’t worry, getting any men like tom or dominic to self-reflect long enough to think about how they speak about and to women as opposed to men…ain’t gonna happen.  

    Thom thumbs–the answer to your question is that of COURSE It isn’t wrong to use your commercial instincts or context to try to understand the world.  it’s important, in both my and jill’s opinion, to draw a line between that work and your fine art work in terms of what hangs on a gallery’s wall, but clearly this is fine art rather than commercial.  the question was answered by warhol and by the dada and bauhaus artists before him, in the affirmative.  

    as for “Threw together” and “dash of theory”, well on the second point dominic i just don’t think you know what sexism is, have never experienced it, and probably don’t believe in it.  jill, a woman, actually experiences sexism on a constant and ongoing basis in both her commercial life and in her fine art life (please see her annenberg lecture for some references to the latter that are quite clear and brutal).  you don’t. i watch guys go to the strip club with the male photographer that they are hiring, and myriad other examples on a daily basis.  and she spends hundreds of hours on her fine art work, massaging every pixel with the most state of the art equipment and an eye that has spent 30 years.  

    any time tom you’d like to discuss why you think it took a woman to make you think about these things, don’t hesitate to weigh in.

    • Will Brand

      I think you and Tom agree on some significant points. When Tom expects objectification from a male photographer but is surprised by it from a female photographer, he’s showing a knowledge of the very misogyny you cite in your argument; if he expected male photographers to evince more of a particular, exploitative visual style, it’s pretty clear he understands misogyny exists in male photographers (I question the novelty of this point). I think, with all due respect, that Tom’s a step behind, rather than your sworn enemy: I dunno about everybody else, but at this point I expect sexist imagery in the work of female artists (Marilyn Minter) just as I expect racist imagery in minority artists (Nate Hill). The revolt is institutional now, and the current problem – for the art world, not for society as a whole – is much more one of freeing women and minority artists from having that label applied across the broad as a kind of “branding” that relocates the same problem.

      • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

        Nice one Will. Female artist, Minority artist. look at your own language- where ever you picked it up, you’re a problem too, and seemingly many steps behind Tom.

        Artists, just artists.

        • Will Brand

          Jesus, Hrag, some of your commenters. Dominic, this is exactly what my last sentence said. I identified that there are artists whose gender or race is clearly important to their work, and named specific examples. For those artists, it would be an art-historical disservice to strip them of their traits, in the same way that it would be wrong to deny that Klee was in the Bauhaus. Minter is a woman artist, and Nate is a black artist. My last sentence noted that the problem was in the appearance of, say, “black artists” (as opposed to “black” “artists”, if you get my drift) where a specific kind of commentary is expected and rewarded by the market because of their race, and other kinds of commentary are marginalized for the same reason. I was saying – and all this is in the paragraph you’re taking issue with – that the problem is now no longer whether a female artist can make a work about the male gaze, but rather whether a female artist can make, say, a purely formalist work without her gender affecting our reading of it. I think female artists mostly can; a Congolese artist, for instance, probably could not. Right now. Because of our continuing Orientalism. 

          This isn’t a fucking internet argument game where you win by proving I’m racist. This is an issue that effects people, real people, and prevents them from expressing themselves and being held on equal footing. I’d rather solve that problem than appease your knee-jerk name-calling.

          All of which is to say, that was a really stupid comment. It showed no evidence of reading or understanding what I said, and showed little respect for the idea that I might be a decent and intelligent human being. This was entirely too many words for me to have wasted on a troll.

          • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

            The evidence you wanted, was in the language you used. I did not name call, and my response was not knee-jerk, which clearly your comment towards me was both. So let’s be clear and level-headed about what the situation entails.

            I did not call you racist, or sexist. You called yourself that in your hasty response to me. I simply said, regardless of your intentions of the subtle nuances of your labeling system (one of which is too subtle and too nuanced to be considered as a communal form of communication, by the way) it STILL labels these artists has a marginal group! As if we can only consider what they have to say under the microscope of sexist work, feminist work or minority work.

            I understand that knowing a person’s background is important to where they want to bring the conversation, visual or spoken, but to put them in the Other group from the begining is the problem.

            Like saying, dude, there’s some great Sexism art at the MOCA today, lets go check it out. The language shapes the experience too much in that sense. Where as, if said, dude, there’s some great art at MOCA today, lets go check it out. When we get there, I can determine what I want with the work, and You can determine what you want with the work.

            its all in the preconception. Let the artists’ work shape the opinions, not your labeling system, or the institution’s labeling system.

            (please note: I did not name call, this was not knee-jerk, and nobody was labeled a troll.)

          • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

            Last thing on this… You bring up Klee and art historical disservices, but we are not talking about art history. “Art right now” and “art history” are too different planets. History sorts itself out in ways we can not really understand or plan. But art right now is entirely in our control, especially because the artists are still living and still capable of being in the dialogue. You’re talking about working labels for working artists, that is unfair. If we let irresponsibility rule now, then might as well get out of the art game.

            Tom did a great thing by calling out an artist for questionable practices, why is he being attacked in a morality game? When logic is completely flawed, morality is always the next fallback (see, Republicans).

            And seriously, the male gaze? If you still care about the Male Gaze you’re centuries behind. 

          • Anonymous

            Let me weigh in here…the words “female” and “minority” are just words, and it seems to me Will used them to articulate his points, with no indication that he can’t see beyond them.  I really don’t have any problem being considered a “female artist”…why should I?  Feminism is not just about how the same we all are…it’s about how different we are too!  

  • Anonymous

     
    Might it be productive to ask, rather than whether the photographs are sufficiently, or insufficiently, undergirded with conceptual weight to mitigate their clearly commercial aesthetics, whether those commercial aesthetics give way, at some point, to an aesthetics that does something other than “sell”? I think that “concept” might be clouding the issue that seems actually under discussion here, which is, in fact, aesthetics.

  • Anonymous

    The point about “why it is a bad thing to use a commercial eye to make a philosophical point as an artist.” It’s not because of what colors, compositions, or tropes are used… it’s because the person making a commercial piece develops an eye for what is “good enough to serve the client”…and that just does not exist for making non-commercially prompted art.  It’s a mind-set.  The market vacuum within which an artist works fuels a very different kind of investigation, and it just does not happen in commercial work.  Anyone producing for a commercial purpose will reach that cut off point of weighing his/her time for the fee involved. And I think it unconsciously becomes a way of selling philosophical points rather than products.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    I feel this thread acknowledges the need for artists and theorists to redefine a few fundamental ideas in a contemporary light. Thank you all for contributing. Thom, the “dash of theory” idea refers to how some images take on a style of art without becoming their own. Don’t get discouraged by titles, just make images and find something in them that is interesting. The work stands alone, as if there were no artist or maker. I also think your comparison to deodorant is accurate. My own comparison was always to shoes and shoe stores, but now I’ll think of deodorant. Dominic, your inquiry as to the timing of this polemic I think is answered by your mentioning of the network TV shows coming out this fall. At a time when it’s mainstream to openly discuss awkward fetishes like flight attendants and animals, I feel viewers have a responsibility to give their voice because, after all, it’s viewers like us who broadcasters and gallerists are targeting, and they need to know there are a lot of people in the general public who think what they’re doing fosters social oppression. Robert, your words are meaningful and I will reflect on them. Will, you make great points and give examples of interesting artists. The revolt has been institutionalized, i.e. “punk is dead.” The idea of expecting things like racism and sexism in imagery scares me a bit though, in the sense that I feel Larry Clark’s and Nan Goldin’s authenticity has influenced some uninhibited youths in ways that aren’t helpful. I’ll definitely look further in to your suggestions of artist’s and their work. Joseph, you mention an interesting concept, which may resemble a battle between the surface and what’s underneath: unearthing art from a disguise aimed at sales. I think Greenberg’s work could have benefited from a color palette that didn’t resemble a toddler’s playset, a point of view that included the individuals beings photographed, and less sexualized posing. The aesthetics are working against the shows purported concepts, and I think your point is helping to clarify as to why focusing on this show is so important. Thanks, and clarify further if I’ve misread you. Judith, selling philosophical concepts is a commercially based model and does inhibit artistic production. Your points and those made by others will hopefully act as a wake-up call for gallerists about how the public isn’t as easily manipulated as they assume. Thank you all!

  • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

    Robert Green- you bash the men for speaking about what we think feminism is, as inaccurate and unsupported since we lack the feminine experience, yet you continually defend Jill’s feminism. You clearly have a conflict of interest and think that you know feminism because you have a feminist wife. But my experience growing up as the youngest to a single mother and two older sisters and now having an artist wife as well, is somehow not valid to comment. I’m simply critiquing what Jill’s puts out into public, from text and images, if she can put it out into public, we should voice opinions about it.
     
    And my opinion is solely based on the words she put forth and the images accompanying them. Not about the foundations of feminism or the dogma associated with a male-driven commercial photography business. I don’t know about that. I know about art and what I read/see. SO, speaking about the art, if fails majorly to make the points pointed out in her artist statement. The artist statement is also troubling to me, considering she is quoting and using stances from the 1980s as the foundation of the work. I could see using 80s feminist thought as a starting point, but she seems to use it more as an end point, as a reason for how the work looks (which misses entirely anyways). I ask the work, why didn’t it build on the 20 years plus since her time at RISD or why not update us on what’s going on now with 2011’s feminist thought. I ask, doesn’t men’s US swim team have the same experience in the water, fighting that force, being the best they can be, having to be bulky and strong, which could also be a metaphor for their world? Every human is destined to fail at the parameters that have been set for them, in some capacity. I get everyone has a struggle, but the blankets thrown over all women seem way too overdramatic. Not to mention, the images don’t seem to reflect the text AT ALL.
     
    In those photos, as Tom wrote, why are they headless? Why are they doll-like, why do they look like floating objects? What is that glass shoe there for? Jill’s work seems to be contradicting the very text she wrote. I don’t see any heroism, I don’t see any, fuck it I’ll do it my way. I see I’ll just float here until a current sweeps me up or a shark eats me. That was where my opinion comes from, just misconnected and disjointed Art work, as an artist trying to be honest and thoughtful to my craft- that is my objection. It has nothing to do with gender roles or the feminine/masculine agendas.
     
    Also, with regards to the commercial overlap- has anyone brought up the contractually obligations? Is it okay for the company buck to pay for all the set-ups, the swimteam as models and rent the space- and for any commercial photog, male or female, to double dip on that?  I would think some companies wouldn’t want their dime paying for extracurriculars. That, I’m not sure though, please comment.

  • http://twitter.com/ArtistDominic ArtistDominic

    Last point, when I see BS, I call BS. If the statement said “These women are exhausted from the harsh realities of training for the US Olympic team, and they’re just chillin in the late daylight sun.” I would like the images more. But when they’re attached to all this whooey, its hard to like them.

    Her last words… “but whether I like it or not, the physical reality of being a woman still informs everything I do.” NO shit. The physical reality of being a man informs everything I do, and everything Robert does. But you can change it, see Chaz Bono. You like it enough to exploit it for gains, but not enough to really do anything drastic about it. Jill is the one that beat us over the head with her womanhood in her statement.

  • Anonymous

    ok, on the subject of feminism, rather than commercialism, the work is just way to obvious, literal, and illustrative of “glass ceiling”.  No one is going to be changed, moved, enlightened, or challenged by looking at images that spell things out so easily.  They have a coffee table attractiveness and conversational tone saying “see… I’m into/experience/understand women’s issues!” If it were only so simple.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000405617907 Cat Weaver

    This feminism debate displays what is hardly a new source of confusion: too often we have knee-jerk reactions to high heels and legs: it’s either viewed as flat out objectification or, if done by a woman, some sort of “power” statement (the irony of which never ceases to amaze me) — in this case, though, I suspect that Jill G is having her irony and eating it too — a la mode.

    Bottom Line (all pun def. intended!) It is after all a lot of cherry saturated leggyness with no heads or identity to worry us. We are given little else but a lame play on glass ceilings. Commercial or fine, it doesn’t look to me to be pushing any envelopes.

    That said, I worry about trying to draw lines between commercial and fine art.

     I LIKE the blurriness of our current world where the genres and the references cross over. I like Man Ray, Stieglitz, Warhol, LaChapelle, Mintor, Sherman, Prager : I like how they feed and blur into each other and I’d hate to live in a world where we made a special effort to separate them. I’d hate to go back to a time when the separation of commercial and fine art was crisp. Both genres benefit from cross pollination!

    I like to go to shows and decide the artistic merits of the works in and of themselves as presented at the time they are presented — in other words, in their full context.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Cat, I agree that categorizing seems moot and that artists have always needed to balance obligation with passion, but I agree with Judith that commercialism is a poison. I think it’s more of a one-way street that’s recently been paved by college instructors who are trained as industry professionals rather than as educators on art. This situation, in my opinion, could benefit from defining what would seem to be a simple question: what is art? We know some images are art and some aren’t, so what’s the difference? I think Greenberg’s work toes this line in the wrong direction, which begs for a new artistic practice that denies the capitalistic compromise. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000405617907 Cat Weaver

      Oh, Tom: “What is art?” Is a tough question. A nearly imPOSSible one. Even “What is a chair?” is a tough question and one I’d be loath to answer accurately. This is why dictionaries have huge entries for simple concepts.

      As for the one way street: I disagree! Off the very top of my head, a recently read tht Cindy Sherman is moving from art to cosmetics. The cross pollination from Man Ray to advertising has been very fruitful. We’d not have had the very fine commercial fashion photography we have these days were it not for Alfred Stieglitz and Dave LaChapelle’s style influenced by Alexander McQueen’s style and and brought back into the advertising pullouts that we see so often these days certainly lifts and adds a great deal of fun to fashion and television advertising. The whole ABSOLUTE ad campaign comes from homage to the most colorful artists and photographers and film makers and it has in turn inspired some lovely artwork.

      I LOVE seeing commercial and fine art mixed to the max. I am very happy to have Richard Prince do tags for LV. I’d hate to see the fun go away.

      • Anonymous

         Cat, I think the “stylistic” cross-overs are fine, either way, it’s completely normal.  The problem is the commercial mind-set that becomes habitual for those who are also working in commercial fields, often having started there.  The approach the commercial artist takes to “sell” his/her points get shortened to gimmicks, pleasing the client, getting paid…and the real obsessive investigation in the that informs “fine art” is lost.  That’s probably too broad, and there will be exceptions. But since “art” is the one field that has no client…I’m for preserving that, I don’t want a world without at least one category of non commercialized activity.  

  • Anonymous

    You are making the assumption that so called Art that might have been relevant 20 years ago would even be Art now. I argue that issue Art like “feminism” and the like are hopelessly Modernist and about as relevant as Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I like all the little Modernist crafties with their quaint ideas and concepts but “Art” has simply passed them by.

    • Will Brand

      Yeah, modernism is obsolete now. Thank god we’ve progressed.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Deegeejay, I think your discussion of modernism is very relevant to this work, and I’m glad you’ve set it as a past era that includes feminism. During this time artists were investigating, getting to the roots of their respective media, and I believe that digitization has brought us back to a similar era that’s filled with new technologies we have trouble understanding. Perhaps redefining feminism is another example of an investigation artists are undertaking in today’s neo-modern, or as Nicolas Bourriaud called it Altermodern, environment. 

  • http://www.meadmclean.com Mead McLean

    I always think it’s important to simply go back to the work when a discussion like this happens.

    Underwater photographs, looking upward at relatively attractive women/woman in bathing suit (or not) and high heels.

    So yeah, it’s commercial. Slap the name of a designer on there and you’ve got an ad campaign. No further discussion necessary. You could sell all those high heels they’re wearing.

    Is it feminist? Maybe it is, but any degree of feminism that’s involved is equally countered by the simple fact that they’re photos of attractive women in bathing suits and heels. The surface and “deep” levels push against each other. So is a feminist agenda achieved? Yes and no. We can say that they’re feminist photos while we revel in the fact that it’s not, at the same time. I’d say that it’s less feminist than employing feminism as an excuse to hang pictures of sexy women on the walls. It’s linguistically feminist and visually non-feminist. The best feminist work is hyper-aware of that pitfall. This stuff just seems to fall into it. Without the titles, we wouldn’t even know it’s about feminism.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000405617907 Cat Weaver

      Honestly, I’d love to see “feminist” art that does not involve the easy “power” of giving us boners.

      Recently I organized a show and one of my artists was accused (here! on Hyperallergic) of some lame-ass feminine power statement when that was actually NEVER her intention (in fact it was entriely opposite)– so whence the accusation?

      Because the artist used naked women and feminine icons! She was celebrating porn and feminine icons.

      But the knee-jerk reaction these days is actually to ASSUME that any female artist who uses sexual imagery is making a feminine power statement. And it’s because too many female artist keep on doing that — tired as it is.

      As if all the power that women can wield is the power of promising nooky.

      I, and my artist friend, long for a time when this nonsense is dead and porn is porn again.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000405617907 Cat Weaver

      I think my last response to this was removed???

      What I had to say was this:
      It has actually become a HABIT to view any work by women that shows nudity or sexual content as “feminist” and to assume that it is about “feminine power.” ANd why is this? because women keep saying that their hypersexual imagery is about “feminine power” — even though the irony is tired and even though it strikes one that women might have more power than just creating boners.

      I pointed out that a show that I organized was actually panned (right here in Hyperallergic!) because the reviewer mistook one of the artist’s works for an attempt to say something about “feminine power” when actually, she was flat out celebrating porn and female iconography.

      Bare-faced sexuality and joy in beauty is honest and THAT confuses us these days because too many “feminist” artists wield the all too lame pussy power cliché.

      I, and the artists I work with, long for the good old days when porn was porn.

      • http://veken.org Veken

        Cat, for some reason, disqus was marking all of your posts as spam, i’ve approved them all, so they should be showing up. sorry about that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000405617907 Cat Weaver

          Wow. Okay. Maybe it’s my foul mouth???
          :-P

  • Anonymous

    One thought to throw into the mix: Cindy Sherman’s commissioned work for fashion houses Comme des garcons ,Dorothee Bis, Issey Miyake, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Interview Magazine are all hanging at MOMA, Tate Modern, and other Art museums around the globe. Does the author believe Sherman has been corrupted by this and that the work was mistakenly included in those collections?

    • robert green

      zoomzoom, the author doesn’t have an opinion about that question worth ascertaining the answer for, insofar as the author cites one Larry Clark, very famous commercial director and photographer, as some sort of avatar of “pure” non-commercial art.  the author of this blog post knows very little about the worlds in which said author is opining, though this does not seem to prevent the author from opining most assuredly and loudly.

      amusingly, reviewing the author’s work on the author’s website, one sees attempts at both a commercial portfolio and an art portfolio.  i will, out of courtesy, withhold judgment as to the relative merits of same, but it’s good to know that outside of the world of horseshit blog bloviating the author seems to reside in the very same real world the rest of us do.  now if one could find a way to get the author to avoid making sweeping and gross generalizations about concepts like feminism without first trying to acknowledge and deal with the author’s “authority” to do so, that would be a baby step forward.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Zoomzoomnyc, I did love her cameo in Pecker.

    • Anonymous

      LOL Sweetheart, that was Lazy, cowardly and irrelevant…  bait and switch never works…you are clearly in above your level…Ciao honey… I tried to give you a chance to explain, but clearly I don’t think I will be giving you another… 

  • Brent Dodd

    Throw this into the mix.
    1) These images were shot in 2010. the assignment was shot in 2008. these images were “inspired” by that assignment.2) One of  Jill’s Glass Ceiling images ran in Stephen Frailey’s “Dear Dave” magazine. Frailey is the head of the BFA photo dept at SVA.3) The author here, Tom Winchester just graduated from SVA’s MFA program; is somewhere between the ripe old age of 25 years old and trying to do commercial and fine art, sidenote; would love to see some work, your website only seems to have a taste. 4) Lisa Yuskavage and Marlene Dumas have influenced Jill.5) What about the difference between painted nudes and photographed intentionally-partially-clothed women, that would be interesting?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sb.street Sarah Beth Perry

    As a budding art history student(insert your snark about my innocence here), I have to pose this question:  Is Jill Greenberg a developed commercial artist and at the same time an underdeveloped “fine” artist?  

    It seems from her earlier work(The Female Object, 1989) that she is almost picking up where she left off long ago, with the early development of her own psyche, as a feminist, as a photog, as an artist and therefore is trapped in a time capsule of Modernist 80s-feministic thought.  At least, in this exhibition.  She takes what she finds interesting about her subject matter, mutilates it, and then spits it back out at you as a statement of how women get chewed up in male driven industries, no matter which one you speak of.  The unfortunate part I think, is that she is so respected on one hand that it further blurs the line of what is GOOD, quality, art that has full CONCEPTUAL development.

    This was a great comment thread, thanks to everybody for inserting their opinions.  It was riveting at times.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A2ETWJRKSVRZF3FWAZWJUCK6XQ tom

    Sarah, I think you bring up an interesting point about her work possibly developing further artistically. Making a statement about the concept of the glass ceiling and the way women deal with it everyday is definitely a discussion that needs to be had, and I hope this thread helps to develop our collective psyche. I think the concepts should come out of the work rather than be projected onto it, so even though I mentioned her history as a commercial photographer in order to emphasize the distance between the work and the press release I believe the images alone would catch a feminist’s critical eye. Will her next show deal with feminism, or will it be full of crying babies and animals? Also, let’s not forget that Clamp Art is playing a role in this process and should have standards that don’t promote sexual exploitation—or at least I would have liked to hear more from the gallery about their motivations behind organizing this show. I’d like to hear about the gallery’s mission and if any distinctions will be made between images shown in magazines and those shown on the walls. Let’s see what happens. Thanks for your words. 

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps this is a good moment to put in question our heightened dependency on the artist statement, and our inability to read the work for itself. In this case, the statement seems to have been shaped by Clamp and Greenberg in response to the pressures of showing conceptually urgent and complex work. The result is a pure masquerade for images that lack that quality exactly and therefore fall back on default claims and statements.  It doesn’t matter how you categorize images–what used to be commercial work (Atget, Outerbridge) is now considered fine art. The problem here is that even if you call this fine art, and even if it’s in major collections–it doesn’t change the fact that we are easily deluded by sweeping messages and are becoming blind to the quality and meaning of the work. Time to turn off the GPS and navigate from our knowledge and sensibility, rather than glib directions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sb.street Sarah Beth Perry

    Thank you, Tom.  

    While it doesn’t excuse the behavior of the artist or gallery, I think we are looking at some pretty bleak times (economically, in the art world, in the real world, natural disasters{I’m in Central Texas as I write this post}, et al.) and unfortunately this is just not mature artistic work.  

    I still think the photos are interesting and I really don’t care much about what Greenberg’s post-creation statement is.  Having a critical eye is why I do what I do, which is to stir the pot.  It’s fun, and above all, important.  

    I think if we saw these same photos five years from now, instead of now, we would feel wholly different about them.  I just don’t think feminism (and don’t get me wrong it is important) is the most critical issue we are dealing with right now and shows like this manage to distract everyone and get people talking about why someone like Greenberg is not a “fine” artist instead of talking about the subject matter and the timeliness of this exhibition.

  • http://twitter.com/SoftJay Sofija Dutcher

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that artists who work in both fine and commercial art still aren’t good artists. That’s the kind of exclusiveness that contradicts the whole spirit of the arts. I do believe commercial arts should be separate but I certainly don’t think it’s fair to say they don’t have their merits. I have seen some commercial photography and Graphic Design pieces that are very inspiring.

    Saying commercial artists can’t do fine art well is a sweeping generalization.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I don’t think anyone is saying you can’t be both, it’s more an issue of the author saying that he doesn’t think this series works as fine art. 

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